The ‘stars’ of this book’s title are Russia’s golden-age writers. The ‘mud’ is Russian life, from the 19th century to the present. The implication is that most Russians live in the latter but have the option of reaching for the former. Over the course of several years, Sara Wheeler (sometime explorer of Greece, Chile and the North and South Poles) has relied on writers ranging from Pushkin to Chekhov as geographical and spiritual guides to their homeland. She has explored their houses, the places where they fought their duels, their graves and their relevance today.
For the reader, a great deal of trouble is thereby saved. There is negligible tourist infrastructure across most of Russia’s vast expanse. Wheeler puts in the hours on trains, on obtaining permissions to visit restricted regions and on home-stay sofas so that we don’t have to. She digests