The East Was Read


LeftWord Books, New Delhi, 2019

Language: English

153 pages

5.5" x 8.5"

Price INR 225.00

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Across the Third World, people grew up reading inexpensive, beautifully-produced books from the Soviet Union – children’s books, classics of world literature, books on science and mathematics, and works of Marxist theory. The first half of The East Was Read is an homage to the lost world Soviet books. Wang Chaohua and Pankaj Mishra recall with fondness the meaning of these books for their very different lives in China and in India respectively. Deepa Bhasthi goes on an emotional journey into the library of her grandfather, a communist intellectual. Rossen Djagalov writes a short history of Progress Publishers. Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o talks about how he wrote Petals of Blood in Yalta on the sidelines of the Afro-Asian Writers’ Association in 1973. Sumayya Kassamali writes about Faiz in Beirut, giving us a sense of the cultural worlds that drew in both the Soviet Union and the Third World Project.

The second half of the book pivots from the page to the stage. Maria Berrios brings an artist’s eye to the cultural world of socialist Cuba. Sudhanva Deshpande identifies a momentum in socialist cinema, from the early Soviet period to the early Cuban period. Revati Laul reminds us that watching a Soviet ballet or reading a Soviet book can have an impact in other times and other histories.

The East Was Read is a treasure trove of sparkling essays on the impacts of socialist culture in various parts of the Third World. This is a must-have book for bibliophiles, cinephiles, for lovers of reading, watching, listening.

Deepa Bhasthi

Deepa Bhasthi is a writer based in Bengaluru. She occasionally works on contemporary art projects. Her research interests are in the areas of sociolinguistics, land/landscape and food politics.

Maria Berrios

Maria Berrios is a sociologist and independent curator. Apart from collaborative art projects, she writes extensively on art and politics in Latin America. She is the co-founder of the editorial collective vaticanochico and lives and works between Santiago de Chile and London.

Ngũgĩ Wa Thiong’o

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o won the Lotus Prize for Literature in 1973. He is the author of such celebrated novels as Weep Not, Child (1964), A Grain of Wheat (1967), Petals of Blood (1977) and Wizard of the Crow (2004). He faced harsh repression for his work, including a year in prison, where he wrote Devil on the Cross on prison-issue toilet paper.

Pankaj Mishra

Pankaj Mishra is an award-winning essayist, travel writer and novelist. He is the author of The Romantics (1999). His most recent book is Age of Anger: A History of the Present (2017).

Revati Laul

Revati Laul is an independent journalist and film-maker. She is the author of The Anatomy of Hate (2018). The book is the first-ever account of the perpetrators of the 2002 pogrom against Muslims that took place in the state of Gujarat in India. Revati has worked for NDTV and Tehelka, and also written for publications like The Quint, and The Hindustan Times. She is based in New Delhi.

Rossen Djagalov

Rossen Djagalov is an assistant professor of Russian at New York University, a research fellow of the Poletayev Institute for Theoretical and Historical Studies in the Humanities, HSE , Moscow, and a member of the editorial collective of LeftEast. His book From Internationalism to Postcolonialism: Literature and Cinema between the Second and the Third World is published by McGill-Queens University Press.

Sudhanva Deshpande

Sudhanva Deshpande is a theatre director and actor. He joined Jana Natya Manch in 1987, and has acted in over 4,000 performances of over 80 plays. His articles and essays have appeared in The Drama Review, The Hindu, Frontline, Seminar, Economic and Political Weekly, Udbhavna, Samaj Prabodhan Patrika, among others. He has co-directed two films on the theatre legend Habib Tanvir and his company Naya Theatre. He is the editor of Theatre of the Streets: The Jana Natya Manch Experience (Janam 2007), and co-editor of Our Stage: Pleasures and Perils of Theatre Practice in India (Tulika 2008). He has held teaching positions at the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, and AJK Mass Communication Research Centre, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. Since 1998, he has been Managing Editor, LeftWord Books. He cycles around town.

Vijay Prashad

Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian and journalist. Prashad is the author of forty books, including Washington Bullets, Red Star Over the Third World, The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World and The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South. He is Executive Director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, Chief Correspondent for Globetrotter, and editor at LeftWord Books. He has appeared in two films – Shadow World (2016) and Two Meetings (2017). Previously, he was the George and Martha Kellner Chair in South Asian History and a professor of international studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, United States, from 1996 to 2017.

Wang Chaohua

Wang Chaohua is a researcher who has a doctorate in modern Chinese literature and culture from the University of California, Los Angeles. She writes regularly on Chinese politics and has edited a collection of essays, One China, Many Paths (Verso, 2003). She lives in Los Angeles.


As a short book, The East Was Read is a huge accomplishment. The individual chapters consumed as a whole succeed to painting a unique picture—of nostalgia, yes, but also of the possibilities inherent in the human capacity to grow, evolve, and build solidarity across continents and generations, all towards the goal of constructing a literate, educated, socialist community of nations, a project that has unfortunately largely been forgotten with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Eastern European states.

Tony Pecinovsky, People's World