Lindsey Hughes

Pattern of a Shawl

Natasha's Dance: A Cultural History of Russia


Allen Lane The Penguin Press 729pp £25 order from our bookshop

In a passage in Tolstoy’s War and Peace the Countess Natasha Rostova performs an impromptu dance to a folk melody, in which her movements display an ‘inimitable and unteachable’ Russian spirit. This telling episode provides a starting point for a thrilling, occasionally dizzying exploration of the ‘Russian-nes’ of Russian culture, in which Orlando Figes guides the reader along a meandering route past both monuments of high art and the ‘mental bric-a-brac’ of Russian everyday life, those balalaikas, dachas, kaftans, matrioshki, muzhiks, samovars and troikas that the glossary so tantalisingly lists. Here are major works of Russian literature, thought, music, architecture and painting. Equally, the reader can enjoy a rummage through the wardrobe of Count N P Sheremetev (in 1806 it included 54 frock coats and 119 pairs of trousers), sample the post-1812 neoclassical ‘peasant look’ in women’s fashion, or feel grateful to have been spared the bear paws and cuckoos roasted in honey that appeared on one nineteenth-century menu, and the experience of living in a comunal flat in the 1930s.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • Something of an 'eccentric billionaire’s hobby': reviews 'The Space Barons: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and… ,
    • "At the age of fifteen, drunk on stolen Chardonnay or stoned on pot at a swimming party, the thoughts that come imm… ,
    • For the latest Bookends, here's Alan Taylor musing on his stint as an assistant librarian. ,
    • A ‘pretentious ass and impotent arriviste’ who surrounded himself with ‘degenerates, hooligans, childish layabouts,… ,
    • . reviews 'Aristotle’s Way: How Ancient Wisdom Can Change Your Life' by ,
    • "As Beevor shows, it was one of the most daring, dangerous and fiercely fought operations of the whole war. It was… ,
    • "The characters are very rich and very male, with astronomical ambitions. The potted biographies in this book sugge… ,