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13 November 2018

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Book Review

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Midnight in Siberia

By David Greene (Norton, $26.95)

“There’s nothing boring about riding the Trans-Siberian,” Greene writes early on about his long railway excursion to fathom the Russian experience.

Indeed. Like Hedrick Smith and Elizabeth Pond before him, Greene, who previously served as the NPR bureau chief in Moscow, seeks to convey an understanding of Russia through a series of profiles of “normal” Russians, strung together with historical sidetracks, references to experts, and humorous personal adventures. And, like Smith and Pond, Greene succeeds marvelously.

The Trans-Siberian railway is the backbone of Greene’s story, and through him we gain an intimate familiarity with the venerable line. But it is also the story of meteorites, hockey fans, babushkas and village survival – the raging complexity of lives lived under markedly different conditions.

David Greene is a rare sort of journalist for our times: patient, humble, observant and self-effacing. He is not some know-it-all Russia-hand with an axe to grind. He just wants to hear people’s stories, to record them, to understand and convey meaning. To say the least, it is a refreshing approach that has created a book well worth reading (preferably alongside a steaming samovar).

— Paul E. Richardson

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Reviewed in Russian Life: Mar/Apr 2015