A patiently crafted glimpse “through a crack in the wardrobe” of the devastation wrought on Russian society during the...



The editor of openDemocracy Russia doggedly pursues the question: What does it mean to be Russian, now that communism has collapsed?

During many trips from 1992 to 1998, Richards (Epics of Everyday Life: Encounters in a Changing Russia, 1991) traveled to visit friends in Russia, particularly in the southwestern towns of Saratov and Marx, and at the very time that the dismantling of the Communist Party and President Boris Yeltsin’s “shock therapy” plunged Russian society into a tailspin of economic hardship. Ardently hoped-for democratic ideals were not achieved, but rather a reigning bitterness toward government as well as the West and a fear of incipient anarchy. The author, who spoke Russian, aimed to interview some Russian Germans, part of the community deported during World War II and promised another homeland more recently—speciously, it turned out. However, during her travels within a disintegrating Russia accustomed to periods of intense instability, Richards developed “a hunch that the character of its people was forged at such times.” She fashions the narrative around the friends she met and lived with closely. Vera, follower of the Vissarion cult, was an inhabitant of Saratov, once called the Athens of the Volga, now a forsaken place closed to foreigners because of its military industry (presently defunct). In Marx, once the nexus of the Russian Germans, Richards stayed with Anna, a tensely coiled journalist—a pravednik, or “truth bearer”—who had been punished for her honest writing; the volatile couple Natasha and Igor, lured to the dead-end town by Gorbachev’s promise of a German homeland, now mostly unemployed and alcoholic; and the couple Misha and Tatiana, marooned in Marx after their engineering training, who became thriving entrepreneurs and part of the rising Russian middle class. Among her new friends, Richards became a “connoisseur of silences,” gleaning their crushed hopes for change and general despair. Other trips took her through Siberia and the Crimea to view the residues of Russian Orthodoxy, the Old Believers and folksy spiritualism.

A patiently crafted glimpse “through a crack in the wardrobe” of the devastation wrought on Russian society during the turbulent post-Communist ’90s. See Daniel Treisman's The Return (2011) for a more comprehensive history of Russia from Gorbachev to Medvedev.

Pub Date: Dec. 7, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-59051-348-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 27, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2010

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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