The world’s biggest country, in a magazine. Since 1956.
by Susan Richards (Other Press)
Early in her marvelous book, Susan Richards observes that, “When a society starts falling apart, the surface of things remains deceptively tranquil…” The rest of the book seems somehow designed to show that the opposite is also true.
It is difficult to know what to call this book: a travelogue, a social history, a study in microeconomics or sociology? A probing of mysticism and theology perhaps? At a loss, I’ll just call it a great read.
The work spans a decade and a half of the author’s travels about Russia, pursuing an optimistic bent that, despite the turmoil at the top, one could find tranquility and wisdom in Russia’s villages, an answer to what makes Russia tick.
Focusing on the town of Marx, near Saratov, Richards follows her interest and leads us on something of a cross-country vaudeville show, where we meet everything from Old Believers to successful entrepreneurs, religious fanatics to gangsters to followers of an obscure nineteenth century philosopher. But there are also loving, friendly, normal sorts who have been ground up by the changes roiling Russian society, people who take in a vagabond writer and share their lives.
Richards writes beautifully and delivers a colorful, complex tableau of Russia that will spark memories in those who have traveled there over the last two or three decades, and fill in the blank spots of history – meaning how the Collapse affected real people – for all the rest.
Reviewed in Russian Life: Nov/Dec 2010