Rappaport (The Romanov Sisters, 2014, etc.) gathers together the impressions of foreign witnesses to the historic events of the Russian Revolution.
In the heady, uncertain weeks of the revolution, mobs in Petrograd (now St. Petersburg) looted and burned any and all artifacts of the Romanov family, only recently deposed. They tore down street signs and museum placards that bore the imperial insignia, and there was frequent shooting in the streets. An American journalist, seeking shelter in a gutter, found himself lying alongside a Russian officer. “I asked what was happening,” he wrote later. The officer replied: “The Russians, my countrymen, are idiots. This is a white night of madness.” Rappaport records these and other recollections, creating a portrait of the Russian Revolution from the points of view of outsiders who happened to be in Petrograd at the time. Foreign diplomats, journalists, and businessmen recorded their thoughts in letters, journals, and newspaper accounts both in the midst of the action and in the years following. The author uses these accounts, many of them unpublished, to follow the action from the czar’s abdication in February 1917 to the ascendancy of the Bolsheviks in October. Rappaport assumes prior knowledge of these complicated events, so leading figures and key moments receive only brief introductions, and she features so many different speakers it can be hard to distinguish among them. Still, their accounts are useful because of the remarkable events they record. Sometimes those events are intriguing for their very prosody. The morning after Lenin and his fellow Bolsheviks took control of the Winter Palace, a Dutch diplomat, walking around the city with his wife, found that, while they’d been asleep, “the second Revolution had been accomplished.” As he wrote later, “we did not realize what a great historical day we were living in as we trod our way home through the perfectly tranquil streets filled with apathetic, indifferent looking people.”
An occasionally scattershot but undeniably valuable history of the Russian Revolution.