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by Rachel Polonsky
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  • Author:
    Rachel Polonsky
  • ISBN:
    0571237800
  • ISBN13:
    978-0571237807
  • Genre:
  • Publisher:
    Faber & Faber; First Edition 3rd Impression edition (2010)
  • Language:
  • FB2 format
    1921 kb
  • ePUB format
    1171 kb
  • DJVU format
    1892 kb
  • Rating:
    4.7
  • Votes:
    520
  • Formats:
    lrf doc lit azw


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Molotov's Magic Lantern book.

The reference to Molotov along with the subtitle, "A Journey in Russian History", might lead readers to expect a rather different book. But references to Molotov's library, underlined in purple ink, act as a structural device rather than a way of illuminating the communist leader's psychology. History of the documentary kind is not Polonsky's genre; the government archives within five minutes' walk of her Moscow fastness are left mostly unexplored

A Journey in Russian History. For Marc, in gratitude and love. In one corner of Molotov’s drawing room stands a magic lantern.

A Journey in Russian History.

Molotov's library and his magic lantern became the prisms through which Rachel Polonsky renewed her vision of Russia

Molotov's library and his magic lantern became the prisms through which Rachel Polonsky renewed her vision of Russia. She visited cities and landscapes associated with the books in the library – Chekhov, Dostoevsky, Pushkin, Akhmatova and many less well-known figures. Some were sent to the Gulag by the man who collected their books. Polonsky is so steeped in Russian history and literature that everywhere she goes, her inner magic lantern projects the past onto the present, the imagined onto the real, and what we see is an illuminated land of immense brutality and beauty, suffering and spirit.

Rachel Polonsky had the good fortune to arrive in Russia at the right time and place. Not even his magic lantern and his books. The place was an apartment in Romanov Lane in central Moscow, not far from the Kremlin, and the time was during the first years of this century – or to be more precise, before the apartment above hers was sold and underwent a complete remodeling that left nothing behind from its one-time owner, Vyacheslav Molotov.

In Molotov's former apartment, Rachel Polonsky discovered what remained of his library and an old magic lantern. And she learned that Molotov - ruthless apparatchik, joint author of the collectivisations and the Great Purge - was an ardent bibliophile, an eager reader with a particular devotion to Chekhov. In the 1990s Rachel Polonsky went to live in Moscow with her family, and began a journey of discovery into a country she thought she knew well.

In Molotov's former apartment, Rachel Polonsky discovered his library and an old magic lantern. Molotov - ruthless apparatchik, participant in the collectivizations and the Great Purge - was also an ardent bibliophile. Molotov's library and his magic lantern became the prisms through which Rachel Polonsky renewed her vision of Russia. She visited cities and landscapes associated with the books in the library - Chekhov, Dostoevsky, Pushkin, Akhmatova and many less well-known figures.

Molotov's library and his magic lantern became the prisms through which Rachel Polonsky renewed her vision of Russia. Books by Rachel Polonsky: Molotov$ Magic Lantern : A Journey in Russian History: £. 9. Как сделать заказ? Положите товар в корзину (ссылка купить ). What's in the Box? 1 x Molotovs Magic Lantern: A Journey In Russian History.


Dagdatus
Rachel Polonsky had the good fortune to arrive in Russia at the right time and place. The place was an apartment in Romanov Lane in central Moscow, not far from the Kremlin, and the time was during the first years of this century – or to be more precise, before the apartment above hers was sold and underwent a complete remodeling that left nothing behind from its one-time owner, Vyacheslav Molotov. Not even his magic lantern and his books.
When Polonsky moved in, though, part of Molotov’s private library was still stored there, and the Texas banker who rented the apartment from Molotov’s heirs allowed her free access to look through it. And what she found there, along with what she found out about the building itself, provided the twin inspirations for this book. When she opened the books from Molotov’s collection, she – like the recent investigator of Hitler’s library – discovered strands of the former owner’s hair. Her initial focus, naturally, was on what books were in the collection, whether their owner had read them or not (many uncut pages), and if he had, what underlining and marginalia did he leave behind?
At the same time, she studied the plaques honoring the dignitaries who had once lived in the buildings on her street, then went and talked with the current residents. In the nearby Lenin State Library she consulted books by and about them, including the last tsarist-era telephone book, which listed, for example, all the titles and memberships of Count Sergei Sheremetyev, whose remodeled palace is also located on the Romanov Lane.
Her excursions in Moscow take her to a storied banya (steam bath), where elegant young women could be seen conspicuously reading the latest best-seller, a new Russian translation of Spengler’s Decline of the West. In this one chapter, she provides perhaps a little more history than one cares to know, if you are not already a fan of the institution of the banya and its rituals. She details not only what people read there, but what they eat and drink; what Pushkin said about the banya; where the oldest one in Moscow is located, how Georgian ones differ from their Russian counterparts, what classes of people go there, what kind of folk work there, and the proper use of a loofah. She talks about banya poetry and Chekov’s story set in one – not to mention the architecture and furnishings. Others might think that suffering intense heat and being beaten with birch twigs is perhaps not the most enjoyable way to spend your time, especially when the chief payoff seems to be your feeling of relief when the ordeal is over. But this is an unfashionable opinion, not to be expressed in polite Moscow society.
After the banya, what could the next chapter be about except the dacha? Here in a district outside Moscow, she rescues the Balandins, a family of distinguished scientists who first prospered, then suffered under Stalin, from undeserved obscurity. She also resurrects Academician Olga Lepeshinskaya, a biologist and follower of the infamous Lysenko. Because she made the right political decisions, the career of this “Old Bolshevichka” was untroubled. She was so “shrewish, mean and untrusting… that she would poke through the garbage to check that her servant had not stolen any leftovers for her animals” (page 128). That’s the kind of person who was able to not only survive but prosper in those times.
Polonsky does not confine herself to Moscow and environs. She ventures into the hinterlands, going west to Novgorod (World War II buffs are treated to a rare glimpse of what the city looked like in 1944, after the Nazis had been pushed out); south to the region around the Sea of Azov; north to the Arctic (during the war, Molotov tried to claim Spitzbergen for the USSR, after the Soviets had occupied a few miles of northernmost Norway); and finally out to the far east, to Lake Baikal and beyond. It’s a shame she did not go to St. Petersburg.
The motto to chapter seven, taken from Dostoevsky’s “Winter Notes on Summer Impressions,” could serve as a motto for the entire work: “After all, an entire nation consists only of certain isolated incidents, does it not?” Polonsky’s book is a meandering stroll through Russian history and across the Russian landscape, following no definite path, heading in no particular direction. We are just meant to enjoy the journey for its own sake. The result is not as radical as Tristram Shandy but it has something of the same flavor. When she says near the end that she is tempted to “digress and delay,” (page 343), the reader is tempted to cry out, “What else have we been doing all this time?” It is only when we arrive at a destination that we find out what the goal was. When she goes to Staraya Russa on Lake Ilmen, where Dostoevsky wrote much of “The Demons,” my best guess is that she wanted to visit what was once the author’s house, since converted to a museum. But it turned out to be closed for renovation. When she travels to Irkutsk, her destination may have been the house of Maria Volkonskaya, the princess who heroically followed her husband, a Decembrist conspirator, into exile. Or was it the sanatorium that advertises itself as being able to cure the exhaustion one incurs in reaching the sanatorium itself? (Chekov said that every traveler arrives in Irkutsk exhausted.)
The effect of concealing the destination is that we seem to be drifting on a wide river, stopping here and there, chatting with this person and that. This has its attraction. The downside is that we do not share any sense of achievement at having completed an arduous task. One does not get the feeling that she has climbed a mountain so much as that she has wandered almost accidentally onto its peak.
This is for the most part an outstanding book, but it could have been even better. We are treated to so many descriptions of buildings, paintings, and photographs that a few pictures of them would have been welcome. Or does this run counter to the publishing philosophy of Farrar, Straus and Giroux? At least they allowed two maps, one of Moscow and one of Russia, though these are no more than adequate at best. The one of Moscow is spread over two pages, but since almost everything of interest is right in the center, that part is bisected, so you end up bending back the cover to make sure you haven’t missed anything in the fold. (Another reviewer on this site felt the need to supplement the maps by consulting Google Earth.)
Historical quibbles: Stalin may well have asked Marshalls Zhukov and Konev (page 17) who would take Berlin, the Soviets or the Western Allies? But in fact this question had already been decided at Yalta. Any competition for territory among the Allies would have been self-injurious, and so it was agreed that Berlin would be left to the Red Army. The only race was between the Zhukov and Konev themselves, and when Stalin posed his question, all three of them understood perfectly well what he really meant.
Final quibble: Admiral Pavel Nakhimov (1802-1855) commanded the Russian fleet at the battle of Sinope, where he annihilated the Ottoman fleet during the Crimean War. As an admiral, he does not belong on a list of “three great generals of Russian imperial history” (page 113). It’s a bit like calling the three great generals of British history Marlborough, Wellington – and Nelson.
All in all, this is history of a good kind – a series of human dramas. These are the people who once lived in this apartment or dacha or city, Polonsky tells us, and this is what they did. Or, since we are talking about Russia, perhaps it is better to say: and this is what happened to them. There will not be many people who, after finishing this book, will be able to say, “Well, nothing I didn’t already know.”
Rocksmith
I was not prepared for the first chapter. It traced Polonsky's Moscow apartment building's story in every direction. This building has seen a seemingly unending flow of celebrities and historical figures live and visit. It seemed as though every door and brick had a story. No lead was too insignificant to follow up. The stories branch in every conceivable direction. It is either astonishing passion, or obsessive-compulsive condition that has forced her to find out absolutely everything there is to know about the building and anyone who has lived or visited there. It becomes a microcosm of Russian history.

She then takes her show on the road, applying not just her detective talents, but her descriptive abilities on a tour of Russia that you and I could never take. Along the way, she crosses paths with the figures who haunt her apartment building, and we piece together their lives and their roles in Russian history. From the Baltic Arctic to the Siberian steppe, we see Russia and Russians today, choosing what they want to be proud of, ignoring (or ignorant of) the rest.

I thought it was going to be about Molotov, but in fact, it is about books and writers. Books tie everything and everyone together, and Polonsky buys books at every stop along the way. Russians' appreciation of their books, their libraries, their need for intellectual stimulation and diversion all work together to give us insight into Russia itself.

I thought the book slowed down the farther away we got from Moscow, and I liked the historical allusions better than the present observations, but overall, this is a fascinating journey.

I've never read anything quite like it.
Jerinovir
The title of this book suggested a Proustian account of one writer's journey through Russian history, and I was greatly intrigued by that idea. However, while she had clearly gathered enough raw material for such an account (each page is packed with details of various facts and figures of Russian history, some important, many obscure), there is no personal account whatsoever to be found. Once in the while the author appears, announcing her arrival in Taganrog in the south, but suddenly, without explanation in the very next chapter she is in the far Russian north. As I slogged through this work, it occurred to me that the "journey" was just a way of excusing the lack of structure or coherence to the book as a whole. In this regard, it is similar to another academic-turned-writer's book, Possessed: Adventures in Russian Literature. It seems to me that in both cases the authors had collected notes for academic or journalistic purposes, failed to define for themselves a coherent structure in which to use them, and decided to re-cast them as memoirs, thereby attempting to excuse the lack of structure. The problem is that neither of these writers have enough literary style or greater artistic vision to pull it off.
Enila
Interesting history. I've learned more about Trotsky, leading me to delve further because of this. The espionage, the fugitives... it was worth reading once.