ECHOES OF A NATIVE LAND by Serge Schmemann


Two Centuries of a Russian Village
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 Russia's chaotic but captivating past and present come together in this perceptive narrative of one family's estate and the village life surrounding it. Inspired by his grandfather's descriptions of its natural beauty and the agreeable life there, Schmemann, a Pulitzer Prizewinning New York Times correspondent, visited the ruins of Sergiyevskoye (the village is now called Koltsovo), the site of his ancestral estate 90 miles south of Moscow. At first he wanted only ``to catch the echoes of a native land.'' But the journalist's connection with Koltsovo deepened as he came to regard the village as his unique window onto Russian life through the centuries. Schmemann relates the estate's history from its origins in the late 18th century through its purchase by one of his ancestors, a member of the Osorgin family, during a game of cards. Tales of daily life at the estate are mingled with an ongoing narrative of Russian history, customs, village life, political trends, and family lore. Readers come to know individual members of the Osorgin family as well as the current generation of Koltsovo villagers, who make a particularly striking impression. From this rich mÇlange the reader takes away two central themes: the Osorgin family's deep and lasting religious faith and the tenacity of the Russian peasant. Schmemann movingly recreates the harmonious and spiritual life that characterized the Osorgin family and the inspiration they drew from the beautiful natural setting of their estate on the Oka River. Peasant life, on the other hand, was predictable only in its suffering and endurance: ``These people had survived serfdom, reform, revolution, and war; they had known despotic and benign barons.'' And yet they are still there, doing their best to survive under the current regime. Schmemann succeeds where others haven't by refusing to idealize the past and by bringing to his subject an empathy that, perhaps, is his own claim to the Osorgins' spiritual heritage. (62 illustrations, 2 maps, not seen)

Pub Date: Oct. 24th, 1997
ISBN: 0-679-43810-6
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1997


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