RUSSIA UNDER WESTERN EYES by Martin Malia

RUSSIA UNDER WESTERN EYES

From the Bronze Horseman to the Lenin Mausoleum
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KIRKUS REVIEW

Veteran Russian scholar Malia (professor emeritus of history at Univ. of Calif., Berkeley) argues Russia’s rightful membership in the family of European nations in a study dominated by anti-Soviet rhetoric. Others refrain from passing judgment on historical events as recent as the past decade, but not Malia. Declaring communism the “great blind alley of our century,” he offers a blistering attack on the Russian communist experiment. The Russian Revolution, he declares, “left behind nothing but rubble, wormwood, and squalor.” Malia’s triumphal autopsy of the Soviet system is irritating, if not questionable, but it constitutes but one part of the author’s ambitious project—that of examining how Russia’s path has converged with or diverged from that of Western Europe during the past three centuries. In a sweeping but plodding narrative, Malia describes how various European nations (because the West was no monolith) have reacted to Russian/Soviet politics and culture. Reflecting the status of enigma that Malia attributes to Russia, Western attitudes varied tremendously over time, ranging from dismissive Orientalism (in response to Russian autocracy and brutality) to “intoxicated” enthusiasm or idealism (for its enlightened despots, its authors, and its communism). Frequently, as Malia is wont to point out, Western views of Russia have been misguided. The West has tended to view this incomprehensible stranger through a looking glass, as human beings often do. Malia’s book thus offers a different perspective on European trends and attitudes. Yet the value of Russia Under Western Eyes as a synthesis of Russian-European trends is undermined by Malia’s anticommunist bias. The narrative style is stuffy, fussy, and too bogged down with “therefores” and “indeeds” to appeal to the general reader. It is a work flawed by its author’s impatience to judge and by his pedantic lecturing on subjects already familiar. Those who already suspect the dangers in Russia’s import of things Western will find food for thought in this book that declares that, if Russia wants to be strong, she will have to Westernize.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-674-78120-1
Page count: 512pp
Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1999