TRAVELS WITH A HUNGRY BEAR: A Journey to the Russian Heartland by Mark Kramer

TRAVELS WITH A HUNGRY BEAR: A Journey to the Russian Heartland

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A vivid personal journey into the question of how Communism ruined farming in the Soviet Union, and an indication that we should not look for improvement any time soon. Kramer the author of a highly praised book on farming in the US (Three Farms, 1980, etc.), was asked in 1987 by the New York Times Magazine to explain ""why a nation whose farms stretched from Norway to Korea across eleven time zones suffered nearly empty shops."" His journeys over a period of seven years provide a devastating picture of a smug and selfish bureaucracy, a disillusioned and unmotivated farming population, an infrastructure where little works, and an industry that simply didn't know how much it didn't know. Kramer imagines telling Iowa farmers ""who demand ambulance-speed service when their combines break"" that a repair service in Russia boasted proudly that it could repair combines in three weeks. What makes it worse is that, on all but Kramer's last trip, he is the guest of the government and is taken to show farms. Over that period, he sees farmers introducing reforms based on personal effort and reward frustrated by the opposition of an officialdom that fears it will be undermined, and by the envy of those working less. Even after 1991, when the Communist Party has fallen, Kramer can discern no improvement. A farmer he had publicized in the US as ""the farmer of the future"" is driven off his land when his rent is raised more than 500 percent. And in an afterword he reports that farm output has fallen by a quarter since the demise of the Soviet Union. Kramer is knowledgeable and he writes well, and it is not his fault, though it is Russia's tragedy, that his account tails off into something close to despair.

Pub Date: April 29th, 1996
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin