RECENT READS #6 : RUSSIA


ARCHANGEL by ROBERT HARRIS

This thriller is set in a well researched  setting:  Russia.  The novel came out in 1997 and set in contemporary Russia.  In short, it posited the hidden existence of Josef Stalin’s son and the machinations of old-style Communists to use him to mount a coup against the government. The story whisked along and was entertaining and well-plotted. But for me, what was so interesting  was  the background detail about Stalin – the man was a monster directly responsible for the death of somewhere in excess of 20 million Russians and yet, according to the novel, a recent poll revealed that one in six Russians thought he was a great leader and would have him back in power tomorrow!  I saw similar very recent corroboration on the Dimbleby Russia  TV series, made mid-2000’s.  Did the Russians not know what Stalin did? Are they in denial? Or don’t they care?

Harris’description of the city of Archangel was very depressing. I’ve had Russia on my To Visit List  for years but now, having read this novel, I wonder why I would even contemplate visiting this a run-down, dirty, corrupt country with such a terrible past.  St Petersburg may be one thing, a glittering treasure house of art, but the rest of Russia does not have a glorious past – brutal and violent, more like it.

RUSSIA  by Johnathan Dimbleby

I read this mammoth tome (570 pages) whilst on holiday.
It took me a while, but was worth the effort. The book was a by-product
of the BBC TV programme on Russia. JD covered 10 000 miles and several centuries on his travels, moving not only West to East, but also North to South. What a vast and varied country Russia is!  The Black Sea in the South – warm and balmy; Siberia in the North with its frozen tundra and taiga; Vladivostok – a seaport on the Pacific ocean. I wish I hadn’t given away my copy of Colin Thubron’s Siberia. Too  late now.

The book highlights the terrible lot of the Russian peasant, both past and present :  their brutal lives, their fatalism, their alcoholism.

The statistics he quotes are mind-blowing, especially in the case of Siberia – it’s a treasure chest of natural resources : gems, oil, coal and timber.

A striking feature of the book was the attitude of the people he encountered.  They think the crypto-fascist Putin is a good leader, a strong leader and they just shrug off the oligarchs and the endemic corruption.  The younger generation  like Western clothes and music, but are nonetheless deeply proud to be Russian.

Dimbleby travelled through Russia clutching, and re-reading the Russian classics: Tolstoy, Dostoevsky et al. All I can say is, he must have had a generous weight allowance on the airlines because my holiday reading always has to be ultra lightweight, and it’s the one time I wish I owned a Kindle!

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9 Comments

Filed under BOOK REVIEWS

9 responses to “RECENT READS #6 : RUSSIA

  1. thanissara

    Great post. I’ve also always been fascinated by Russia, tried to learn Russian when was young, but I have much the same conclusions as you. Seems a scary place if u got on the wrong side of things. I also recently saw the movie though haven’t read the book. Still like to go one day even so!

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  2. Mule Springs

    “They think the crypto-fascist Putin is a good leader, a strong leader and they just shrug off the oligarchs and the endemic corruption. The younger generation like Western clothes and music, but are nonetheless deeply proud to be Russian.”

    This totally agrees with what I have found my Russian pen-pals to express. Interesting report Alison.

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  3. I’ve long wanted to have a Russian pen-pal, but have never managed to find one who could write English – how/where did you find one ?

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  4. Mule Springs

    Oops, sorry I missed this. How I found my Russian penapls– years ago I signed up with an international PP organization through the mail. I got one pal from Russia. The other pals came from INTERPALS– you can find them online and search by country. Good luck! Sending mail to Russia is tough, mostly it gets stolen. 😦

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    • Alison Smith

      Thanks for info. A lot of our mail get stolen too – its very frustrating. Will follow this up when I return from Zimbabwe.

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  5. Mule Springs

    Have a safe and wonderful trip! Sher

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  6. Alison, I visited Archangel in my ship in the late 50s. It was a poverty stricken place. The women worked on the docks driving the cranes, trams, sweeping the streets and doing all kinds of manual work, while the men seemed to strut around in uniforms of some kind or another. Security was strict. All our radios and cameras were taken from the crew and only released when we left. This wouldn’t happen in a non communist country. I had a serious accident on the ship and was taken to the hospital there, where the staff treated me very well indeed. Ernie Gay.

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    • Alison Smith

      Ernie – what an interesting account – you definitely visited that city in the very Bad Old Days! aren’t you glad you live in Cape Town & not ther USSR ?

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