A CULTURAL HISTORY OF RUSSIA by Joel Carmichael

A CULTURAL HISTORY OF RUSSIA

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Rather a negative look at Russian culture. Carmichael, who has written before on Russia -- two translations and his barely adequate Short History of the Russian Revolution, seems to have tired of his subject. In any event, he doesn't bother to be very specific here, but states generally (and often) that Russia lived in a cultural vacuum for centuries and then, toward the end of the eighteenth century, developed a ""Francomania"" which yielded a highly derivative art, architecture, music, and literature. While it is correct that early Russia was isolated, there was a highly Russian flourishing art: vide the highpoint of iconography in the 14th and 15th centuries, the genesis of the onion-shaped dome in the mid-12th; and in literature the early bylina (folk songs) and later pariminik (sermon pieces), which Carmichael doesn't mention at all. Later, it is quite true that there was a Westernization, but again art forms were clearly Russianized: the Empire style in architecture, or the specifically Russian grotesquerie in Gogol's realism, or the folk origins of Chagall's art. But what Carmichael likes to concentrate on are the brief transitional periods when ""culture"" seems to be at its lowest ebb: the first half of the 14th century when ""nothing of interest seems to have survived in Russian painting,"" or the final decade of the 18th century (actually a very exciting short period) which he sees as ""a wilderness in Russian culture."" It's a pity he doesn't characterize the names he names or at least give more rifles (or a bibliography so a reader can look for himself). The picture researchers, however, have done an able job -- often showing what the author implies doesn't exist, and typography and lay-out are good. This, then, is a book that's fairly good to look at, but as an initiation to Russian culture, not much to read.

Pub Date: Oct. 14th, 1968
Publisher: Weybright & Talley