Review: Molotov’s Magic Lantern: A Journey In Russian History

Molotov's Magic Lantern: A Journey In Russian History Molotov’s Magic Lantern: A Journey In Russian History by Rachel Polonsky
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Moscow is a city with layers and layers of secrets and history. Along with other cities in Russia, there has been a level of impenetrability and this mystic has made them a source of fascination for all outsiders. Rachel Polonsky, a British journalist, was fortunate to live in Moscow for a number of years, and where she lived had previously been home to some the elite of the Soviet era. One of those was Vyacheslav Molotov, a man responsible for condemning hundreds to exile to Gulags and almost certain death. Polonsky discovers that his apartment in the block contains a substantial library full of books, some of which were written by those that he despatched to Siberia and an old magic lantern. This discovery that Molotov was a bibliophile was quite startling inspired Polonsky to voyage find the stories hidden in Siberia, to venture into the Arctic Circle, travel across the steppes and into the forests surrounding Moscow.

This is a book that is full of detail of the people and the events that made the Russia revolution and the grip that the totalitarian state had on the people of Russia. Whilst she ventures far into the past of the country and writes about the complex relationships that had developed from the iron grip that Stalin had on the country, there is not as much on her travels around Russia that I would have liked, though it does give a flavour of contemporary Russia. Her prose is incredibly dense, but this is as much from the subject matter, as it is her style. Definitely a book for those that have a fascination with Russia and its history rather than being a travel book for a wider readership. 2.5 stars.

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  1. DoingDewey

    I'd like to pick up a book about Russia, given the role Russia is playing in politics in the US, but it sounds like this might not be the most engaging option.

  2. Paul Cheney

    There are better books on Russia out there. Have a look at my travel bookshelf on Good Reads or I can send you a couple of recommendations

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