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A conventional, mildly entertaining travel book by the author of Melinda (1968) and Salome and Don Giovanni (1969). As she goes from Irkutsk and other less westernized Siberian cities to Central Asia, the Volga region and the steppes to Russia proper, there is a demi-flirtation to lend suspense and some question about why she is there in the first place. Just to write about it, it seems. A half-Jewish Italian-born Londoner who knows Russian, she sought out the regulars rather than the rebellious and was in turn sought out by all kinds of inhabitants, in addition to those she interviewed. Accordingly we get scientists and babushkas and comical Georgians and a poet and an authority on Shelley and the Gogolian chief of the Institute of Marxism-Leninism, and more: the Russian theater and the Siberian opera house, drinking habits and architecture and Lenin's birthday centenary celebrations. For the most part the tone is straight journalistic description with some first-person geniality and irony, but from time to time glib little glosses are offered: ""Most people in the Soviet Union seem quite happy today, I thought. . . . Freedom? What is it? They have never had it, Russians don't know what it is. . . ""; ""Their skins have doubled in thickness, but the soul inside is still the soft melting Russian soul."" The book has no intellectual center of gravity, and it lacks sufficient dash to rank in that great tradition of European travel accounts to Muscovy. Farley Mowat's The Siberians (p. 39) is merrier and more penetrating.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1971
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux