Proselytizing, not postcards. ""The title,"" says Ustinov, ""is the publisher's""; still he does have a Russia of his...

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MY RUSSIA

Proselytizing, not postcards. ""The title,"" says Ustinov, ""is the publisher's""; still he does have a Russia of his own--with no resemblance to the savage giant or deadly prison of Western ""prejudice."" There, he bas a point; but this spotty, idiosyncratic pictorial history doesn't make much of a case. Ustinov wants to remind us that Russia bas always felt threatened--because she has always been threatened. Insofar as Russia did stand between the Mongols and Europe, and withstood Napoleon and Hitler, the Russians have a claim to understanding; but in extending Russia's defensive perimeter to include the Baltic states and Poland, Ustinov pushes that claim at the expense of the legitimate interests of others. It's captious, moreover, to assert that ""Russia was never an imperialist power in the conventional sense"" (because she didn't make over-seas conquests) and plainly absurd to object to ""the image. . . of endless autocracy"" when even his last czars are stoutly proclaiming themselves autocrats. And when he does necessarily describe the excesses of Russian rulers, and the extremes of Russian temperament (or both: ""Ivan was never more himself than when torturing and killing with his cronies, dressed as them, in black""), the reader can't help but feel that there's something to the old impressions. The Russians, Ustinov would like us to realize, are different--as a nation and as a people. But whether or not ""the American way of life would be. . . curtly rejected by most Russians,"" as he alleges, ""the proof"" is not that ""the Russians voluntarily abandoned Hawaii, whereas the Americans made it their 51st state, and increased the voltage of the electric guitars."" (There once were a few Russians in Hawaii, in 1815-16--and, yes, it does say 51st state.) Readily dispensable.

Pub Date: May 4, 1983

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Atlantic/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1983