A spectacular, startling, and sometimes downright grisly chronicle, in words and pictures, of a bloody and tumultuous...


THE RUSSIAN CENTURY: Birth of a Nation: 1894-1994

A spectacular, startling, and sometimes downright grisly chronicle, in words and pictures, of a bloody and tumultuous period. Alongside a stunning battery of photographs scoured from archives and collections throughout the former Soviet empire, the vast majority of them unfamiliar, Moynahan (Comrades, 1992) unfolds a history short on depth but told in crisp, imagistic (not to say strongly opinionated) prose. To his great credit, he persistently strives to include not only the obvious historical milestones -- wars, revolutions, terror, famine, and the like (every horseman of the apocalypse gallops across the tortured steppes) -- but also some sense of the evolving everyday sensory and emotional realities of Russian life under czar, dictator, and infant democracy. In this, he's not only immeasurably aided but inevitably outshone by the pageant of superbly reproduced photographs to which every reader will be immediately drawn and which, highlighting the human figure at the expense of landscape, run the gamut from imperial family portraits and staged Party propaganda scenes to snatched samizdat documents of ghetto and gulag, to the innovative high art of Rodchenko. Behind the familiar official faces of the masters -- Rasputin's manic stare, Trotsky's compelling gaze, Stalin's sly squint, Yeltsin's pugnacious querulousness -- and the distortions of official history, both amply evidenced here, the photos unearth a vast parade of their nameless subjects (and, more often then not, victims) -- ""ordinary"" workers, peasants, soldiers, priests, shopkeepers. Too often it's a gallery of the unquiet dead: These pages are as corpse-strewn as the history they record -- slain in purges, pogroms, insurrections, invasions, by starvation or single bullet, piled high by roadsides, dumped into mass graves, even, most shockingly and indelibly, filleted on the dining table of famine-stricken peasants driven to cannibalism. No mere coffee-table ornament, but a historical document of great drama and unusual intensity.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 1994


Page Count: 320

Publisher: Random

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1994