Molotov's Magic Lantern

Molotov's Magic Lantern: Travels in Russian History, by Rachel Polonsky

Rachel Polonsky is English, but studies and writes on Russian history and literature, and has lived there quite a bit.  Here, she travels around certain Russian cities, writing about their histories, and she starts with a stint in Moscow.  Polonsky is staying in a borrowed apartment in what was once a building that housed eminent Russians: first high society types, and then the Soviet elite.  Upstairs is Molotov's old apartment.  Polonsky is granted access through the current resident and discovers that a good portion of Molotov's own possessions are still there--in particular, remnants of his large book collection, and his magic lantern (an early slide projector).  Although Molotov is not really a major figure in this book, Polonsky uses the books he once read as starting points for her thoughts on her visits to places in Russia.

Every city visited offers a mix of history--both pre- and post-Revolution--literature, and politics.  We read about Chekhov, Akhmatova, Pasternak, Decembrists, and prisoners, as well as anecdotes about Soviet writers whom Molotov read, worked with, and often sent to the gulag.  There is a bit about the Orthodox Church in Russia today.  She also gets in quite a few jabs at Putin.

This is not a highly focused book.  It's an interesting wander, very much like the Travels in Siberia book that I started this year with.  A good read, too.  It also won a prize for best travel book of 2010.

This is my final Mount TBR book, my final Sail to the Past book, and in general my last challenge-related book of 2014!  Woot!


  1. Sounds interesting! I am trying to make myself love Russia better, so this is the kind of thing I need, to give me some context for Russian geography and history. Adding to the list! (I am doing a massive library run later today, and I anticipate that I will throw out my back trying to carry all the books I want to read.)


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