Molotov’s Magic Lantern: A Journey in Russian History by Rachel Polonsky - review by Catherine Merridale

Catherine Merridale

The View From Romanov Lsne

Molotov’s Magic Lantern: A Journey in Russian History


Faber & Faber 416pp £20

If someone set out to design a culture that would be guaranteed to inspire European travel writing, they might well end up with Russia’s. Few tourists, after all, return from Norway or Switzerland with an urge to report the rude and barbarous customs of the locals. Visitors to France (like Richard Cobb) or Spain (Laurie Lee) often adopt the position of natives, drinking the wine and soaking up the unaccustomed sun, but however long a person resides in Russia he or she remains – and writes as – an outsider.

Within that broad category, however, there are nuances. Some write in a romantic haze, enjoying snow and vodka on the way, while others (possibly the majority) prefer to pick out what they find eccentric, exotic or, for those with a political agenda, appalling. A person’s outlook is also

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