A Canadian journalist (White Tribe Dreaming, 1988) with a strong knowledge of Russian history travels down the 2,000-mile Volga River. ""Mother and mistress, comrade and beloved, companion and teller of tall tales,"" the Volga is to Russia what the Mississippi is to the US and the Nile is to Egypt. De villiers once worked as a foreign correspondent in Moscow; recently, when a small group of Russian journalists there told him of their plan to journey down the Volga, he jumped at the chance to join them. His adventures take him into the heartland of the country as he travels to such towns as Uglich, where the tragedy of Boris Godunov began in 1591; to Balakhna, where Peter the Great built many of his ships; to Corky, where Sakharov was exiled; and to Ulyanovsk, where Lenin was born. Much has changed since the last time (perhaps ten years ago) that de Villiers visited Russia: Now, his movements are only nominally monitored and there is much freedom of expression as everyone he meets--from judges to peasants--talks of Gorbachev, glasnost, perestroika, and the future. ""People were coming to work bleary-eyed not from alcohol but from an overdose of politics,"" he writes. ""The whole country was on a politics binge, endlessly jabbering, endlessly arguing...."" Much, however, has stayed the same: It's still extraordinarily difficult to track down a person's telephone number or to get a seat in a restaurant. At times, especially when describing the machinations of his trip, de Villiers is a bit lengthy, but for the most part his smooth, well-written prose moves along at a rapid clip. A rich and deeply sympathetic look into parts of Mother Russia rarely visited by tourists.