Friday, 4 November 2011

more on books

Reading Snowdrops - with its emphasis on the rotten side of Russia - made me think of the other books I have read about the country since I got here. Nothing has been worse than Rob Lilwall's Cycling Home from Siberia which stayed so much inside his self-centred head, that we never really heard from anyone else (sample - chapter 2 is entitled 'how shall I die?', followed by a quote from Fight Club.) In comparison Dervla Murphy's Silverland - also involving Siberia and a bicyclemay be be traditional in including some history and useful facts (rather than just what the traveler is feeling at the time), but shows both insightfulness and modesty in her engagements with people and place.

Then there were two authors who write about Russia through the prism of its literature; Elif Batuman's The Possessed and Rachel Polonsky's Molotov's Magic Lantern - the first of which I read very fast and without much concentration; and the second of which I have not yet got around to finishing. And enjoyed, in a fairly abstract way. But I can't help feeling that - except for bits of Murphy - A. D. Miller is quite correct when he admits that we write about Russia mainly to write about ourselves:
"Just as travel writing chronicles the traveller's preconceptions as well as his journey, so for some novelists, Russia is not, or not only, a sort of moral zoo, which writer and reader can visit with a safe sense of superiority. It is also a place to test their moral pride and presumptions." quoted from here.
Which means that Russians themselves, as themselves, (and in all their variations) don't turn up very often. Or that I am reading the wrong books.

And the eagle-eyed will note that the photograph here is from earlier in the summer. In fact the leaves in Moscow have almost all gone. Must get my camera back from London (where I left it) somehow.

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