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When Pigs Could Fly and Bears Could Dance
A History of the Soviet Circus
Miriam Neirick


“A beautifully written, compact history of the Soviet circus.”
—Janet M. Davis, author of The Circus Age: Culture and Society under the American Big Top

For more than seven decades the circuses enjoyed tremendous popularity in the Soviet Union. How did the circus—an institution that dethroned figures of authority and refused any orderly narrative structure—become such a cultural mainstay in a state known for blunt and didactic messages? Miriam Neirick argues that the variety, flexibility, and indeterminacy of the modern circus accounted for its appeal not only to diverse viewers but also to the Soviet state. In a society where government-legitimating myths underwent periodic revision, the circus proved a supple medium of communication.

Between 1919 and 1991, it variously displayed the triumph of the Bolshevik revolution, the beauty of the new Soviet man and woman, the vulnerability of the enemy during World War II, the prosperity of the postwar Soviet household, and the Soviet mission of international peace—all while entertaining the public with the acrobats, elephants, and clowns. With its unique ability to meet and reconcile the demands of both state and society, the Soviet circus became the unlikely darling of Soviet culture and an entertainment whose usefulness and popularity stemmed from its ambiguity.

Portrait of author Miriam NeirickMiriam Neirick is assistant professor in the department of history at California State University, Northridge.

Inquiries regarding review copies, events, and interviews can be directed to the publicity department at publicity@uwpress.wisc.edu or (608) 263-0734.

Of related interest:
Cover of book has black and white image of people in the background with a red flag with yellow writing.The Body Soviet
Propaganda, Hygiene, and the Revolutionary State
Tricia Starks

The Body Soviet is the first sustained investigation of the Bolshevik government’s early policies on hygiene and health care in general.”
—Louise McReynolds, author of Russia at Play: Leisure Activities at the End of the Tsarist Era

The cover of When Pigs Could Fly is based on a Russian Circus poster.

July 2012
LC: 2011043507 GV
232 pp.   6 x 9   15 b/w photos

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ISBN 978-0-299-28764-1
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A Mellon Slavic Studies Initiative Book
This book is part of a five-year initiative for publishing first books by scholars in the fields of Russian, East European, and Central Asian Studies, supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

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Updated February 22, 2012

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