What I’m Reading: Russia

Yes, Russia is a broad topic but it’s true. Entirely by coincidence both books I’m reading right now deal solely with Russian history.

russiaA couple months ago I saw Martin Sixsmith’s Russia: A 1000-Year Chronicle of the Wild East on the shelves at the local B&N. Although I remain doubtful anyone can really tell a good history of the country in about 600 pages, the reviews it got upon its release in the U.K. were fairly impressive. As a result, it ended up on my Christmas wish list and, thanks to my middle daughter, under the tree.

former peopleI started reading it just before New Year’s. I wasn’t 100 pages in when I got a notice from the library that a book I’d placed on reserve, Former People: The Final Days of the Russian Aristocracy by Douglas Smith, was available. Not wanting to wait any longer for it, I checked it out and also began reading it.

Normally, I wouldn’t read two books at the same time dealing with the same subject. Even though, so far, both books are very well done, my experience tends to support the inclination to avoid a similar situation in the future. Naturally, Sixsmith’s book covers a lot of ground. Peter the Great, for example, is covered in one chapter. In contrast, Smith’s book takes a detailed look at Russian aristocracy in the first half of the 20th Century. Perhaps it is because I am fickle or naturally curmudgeonly but the extremes don’t really make for a well-balanced reading experience. When I’m reading Russia I’m wishing for more detail. And, of course, when I’m reading Former People, I tend to wish for less detail.

I simply need to invoke the mantra I adopted last year: It is what it is.

In Russia, people suffer from the stillness of time.

Tatyana Tolstaya, May 1990

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