Molotov's Magic Lantern: Travels in Russian History

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When the British journalist Rachel Polonsky moves to Moscow, she discovers an apartment on Romanov Street that was once home to the Soviet elite. One of the most infamous neighbors was the ruthless apparatchik Vyacheslav Molotov, a henchman for Stalin who was a participant in the collectivizations and the Great Purge—and also an ardent bibliophile. In what was formerly Molotov's apartment, Polonsky uncovers an extensive library and an old magic lantern—two things that lead her on an extraordinary journey throughout Russia and ultimately renew her vision of the country and its people.

In Molotov's Magic Lantern, Polonsky visits the haunted cities and vivid landscapes of the books from Molotov's library: works by Chekhov, Dostoevsky, Pushkin, Akhmatova, and others, some of whom were sent to the Gulag by the very man who collected their books. With exceptional insight and beautiful prose, Polonsky writes about the longings and aspirations of these Russian writers and others in the course of her travels from the Arctic to Siberia and from the forests around Moscow to the vast steppes. A singular homage to Russian history and culture, Molotov's Magic Lantern evokes the spirit of the great artists and the haunted past of a country ravaged by war, famine, and totalitarianism.

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About the author

Rachel Polonsky has written for Prospect, The Guardian, The Times Literary Supplement, and The Spectator, among other publications. She is the author of English Literature and the Russian Aesthetic Renaissance and lives in Cambridge, England, with her family.

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Additional Information

Publisher
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Published on
Jan 11, 2011
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Pages
416
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ISBN
9781429974905
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Features
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Language
English
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Genres
Travel / Former Soviet Republics
Travel / Russia
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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From the award-winning author of A People's Tragedy and Natasha's Dance, a landmark account of what private life was like for Russians in the worst years of Soviet repression

There have been many accounts of the public aspects of Stalin's dictatorship: the arrests and trials, the enslavement and killing in the gulags. No previous book, however, has explored the regime's effect on people's personal lives, what one historian called "the Stalinism that entered into all of us." Now, drawing on a huge collection of newly discovered documents, The Whisperers reveals for the first time the inner world of ordinary Soviet citizens as they struggled to survive amidst the mistrust, fear, compromises, and betrayals that pervaded their existence.


Moving from the Revolution of 1917 to the death of Stalin and beyond, Orlando Figes re-creates the moral maze in which Russians found themselves, where one wrong turn could destroy a family or, perversely, end up saving it. He brings us inside cramped communal apartments, where minor squabbles could lead to fatal denunciations; he examines the Communist faithful, who often rationalized even their own arrest as a case of mistaken identity; and he casts a humanizing light on informers, demonstrating how, in a repressive system, anyone could easily become a collaborator.

A vast panoramic portrait of a society in which everyone spoke in whispers—whether to protect their families and friends, or to inform upon them—The Whisperers is a gripping account of lives lived in impossible times.

Empress Catherine II brought Europe to Russia, and Russia to Europe, during her long and eventful reign (1762—96). She fostered the culture of the Enlightenment and greatly expanded the immense empire created by Czar Ivan the Terrible, shifting the balance of power in Europe eastward. Famous for her will to power and for her dozen lovers, Catherine was also a prolific and gifted writer.

Fluent in French, Russian, and German, Catherine published political theory, journalism, comedies, operas, and history, while writing thousands of letters as she corresponded with Voltaire and other public figures. The Memoirs of Catherine the Great provides an unparalleled window into eighteenth-century Russia and the mind of an absolute ruler.

With insight, humor, and candor, Catherine presents her eyewitness account of history, from her whirlwind entry into the Russian court in 1744 at age fourteen as the intended bride of Empress Elizabeth I’s nephew, the eccentric drunkard and future Peter III, to her unhappy marriage; from her two children, several miscarriages, and her and Peter’s numerous affairs to the political maneuvering that enabled Catherine to seize the throne from him in 1762. Catherine’s eye for telling details makes for compelling reading as she describes the dramatic fall and rise of her political fortunes.

This definitive new translation from the French is scrupulously faithful to her words and is the first for which translators have consulted original manuscripts written in Catherine’s own hand. It is an indispensable work for anyone interested in Catherine the Great, Russian history, or the eighteenth century.


From the Hardcover edition.
Lonely Planet: The world's leading travel guide publisher

Lonely Planet Georgia, Armenia & Azerbaijan is your passport to the most relevant, up-to-date advice on what to see and skip, and what hidden discoveries await you. Wander the historic winding lanes of Old Town, Georgia, slow down in Azerbaijan at an outdoor cafe, and take in the views at Armenia's mountaintop monasteries; all with your trusted travel companion. Get to the heart of Georgia, Armenia & Azerbaijan and begin your journey now!

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Travels with NPR host David Greene along the Trans-Siberian Railroad capture an overlooked, idiosyncratic Russia in the age of Putin.

Far away from the trendy cafés, designer boutiques, and political protests and crackdowns in Moscow, the real Russia exists.

Midnight in Siberia chronicles David Greene’s journey on the Trans-Siberian Railway, a 6,000-mile cross-country trip from Moscow to the Pacific port of Vladivostok. In quadruple-bunked cabins and stopover towns sprinkled across the country’s snowy landscape, Greene speaks with ordinary Russians about how their lives have changed in the post-Soviet years.

These travels offer a glimpse of the new Russia—a nation that boasts open elections and newfound prosperity but continues to endure oppression, corruption, a dwindling population, and stark inequality.

We follow Greene as he finds opportunity and hardship embodied in his fellow train travelers and in conversations with residents of towns throughout Siberia.

We meet Nadezhda, an entrepreneur who runs a small hotel in Ishim, fighting through corrupt layers of bureaucracy every day. Greene spends a joyous evening with a group of babushkas who made international headlines as runners-up at the Eurovision singing competition. They sing Beatles covers, alongside their traditional songs, finding that music and companionship can heal wounds from the past. In Novosibirsk, Greene has tea with Alexei, who runs the carpet company his mother began after the Soviet collapse and has mixed feelings about a government in which his family has done quite well. And in Chelyabinsk, a hunt for space debris after a meteorite landing leads Greene to a young man orphaned as a teenager, forced into military service, and now figuring out if any of his dreams are possible.

Midnight in Siberia is a lively travel narrative filled with humor, adventure, and insight. It opens a window onto that country’s complicated relationship with democracy and offers a rare look into the soul of twenty-first-century Russia.

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