Khrushcheva and Taylor provide a valuable travelogue and analysis of an empire that, with its split personality symbolized by the national emblem, a Byzantine double-headed eagle, has long confused westerners. With a local joke or literary passage provided in each chapter to offer a taste and preview of each region’s character, their on-the-road observations are backed by commentary on how Russia is a country whose past of both autocracy and revolution, devotion to Orthodox Christianity, and embrace of atheistic communism remains evident across its vast territory. The authors frequently note the contradictions they see as Russian society simultaneously appropriates and emulates, defies and opposes European culture. Russia is both capable of huge changes and hugely fearful of change, backward and conservative yet striving for the next big thing. This powerful chronicle will enlighten readers both curious and knowledgeable about contemporary Russia.
Throughout this chronicle, there are vivid descriptions of the climate, monuments and apparent public mood in each place the authors visit, along with interviews. Oddly, however, there is no discussion of the media—what the newspapers and magazines are saying (or not saying), what’s popular on television or how local and national news is conveyed and received.
The authors ably capture the vastness of the cobbled-together nation, the extremes encompassed within that vastness, and how the history of trying to tame the wildly divergent population spread out massive distances from Moscow is melding with current efforts to do the same ... A breathtaking and occasionally exhausting journey, with candid accounts reported from each stop along the route.