A former Russia correspondent for NPR ends his gig by taking a train across Siberia, generating new experiences and remembering earlier ones.
Greene, who’s still with NPR as a host with Morning Edition, debuts with a journey that is personal and emotional, both actual and metaphorical. He begins by explaining his history with Russia: He and his significant other, Rose, moved there in 2009; the inability to speak or understand Russian remained an issue for both of them—but one they were able to surmount with the aid of Sergei, a translator who became one of the author’s best friends. During his journey of thousands of miles (Rose was with him only temporarily), Greene tells us about the hassles of traveling (security agents shadowing them), the explicit and tacit rules for behavior on trains, the charms of traveling third class (as circumstance occasionally forced them to do), and the people they encountered—both on the train and in the communities where they stopped. Greene had met some during other reporting excursions; others were strangers who shared rail compartments, managed hotels and drove public transportation. But traveling also provided Greene an opportunity to recall important experiences throughout his life. He recalls an intense conversation about hockey, a visit to a Holocaust memorial and a series of low points in his journalism career. In addition, the author offers quite a few quotations from other travelers and from Russian writers—Chekhov appears more than once. He also speculates continually about the Russian character: What do they really think about Vladimir Putin? Why does there seem to be lingering nostalgia for Stalin? How do they manage to deal with the almost Kafkaesque aspects of the Russian bureaucracy?
Glowing in its profound affection for the Russian people, an affection Greene convinces readers to share.