Tuesday, June 8, 2010


As I continue to pack up my office collection of Russian books, I discover more books that I completed prior to embarking on this blog. As mentioned previously, some of these books were unremarkable, but not many. Russian writers and even non-Russians who write about Russia seem to be, to quote Garrison Keiler, all above average. A few others were outstanding, but somehow still failed to stick in my memory. I suppose this blog is largely attempt to capture some small part of each and every book I read before it evaporates forever.

Serge Schmemann's book, Echoes of a Native Land: Two Centuries of a Russian Village is one of the books I'm putting into a large, plastic crate today. It may remain buried in a basement for many years. But that's how history works: that is it's melancholy charm--oneday it will be accidentally discovered, perhaps re-read. As I say, I don't remember too much about this book, only that Schmemann is a noted journalist whose beat was Moscow. Schmemann's once-wealthy family fled Russia long ago and Schmemann somehow managed to brave communist authorities and state handlers to visit the estate and research the legacy of his family.

Over time, he got to know the village and its people, and perform what amounts to an archeology of the area. With some understandable bias, the author documented the complex but often friendly interactions between landowners and peasants, and then the Revolution and its aftermath, which steadily deprived his family of any pretence of a dignified existence. Schmemann's account of the area seems to represent the best traditions of micro and oral history. Whenever possible, the peasants tell the story of their lives. Peasants were clearly exploited by tsarist economic arrangements, but communist ideology and the generic processes of modern economics bled the area of people and left only a small, dispirited group of elderly pensioners to tell the story of the village.

No comments:

Post a Comment