Couple of things to report – little time for reviews – quite a few half-finished reads to come back to, but for now …
I finished Martin Sixsmith’s “Russia” in 3 or 4 concentrated sittings last week whilst on aircraft / in airports / in hotel bars etc. Un-put-down-able – straightforward, knowing and journalistic history of Russia from 862 up to Putin & Medvedev and the 2011 Domodedovo terrorist bombing. The timeline of deaths per page is numbing – hundreds, thousands, millions, thousands, hundreds, tens – yet an easy witty read, packed with information from first hand research and experience. Sixsmith grew up in Russia as well as being BBC correspondent. Question – Putin really is scary, but how would you govern a “state” that spans 9 time zones from the arctic to the Caucasus and the steppes of central Asia.
Example 1: We probably knew that after Borodino/1812 Napoleon got
very close to the heart of Moscow before being repulsed. That and the parallel with Hitler are still very close to modern Muscovites I detect, but did we know that the Russians pursued Napoleon’s retreat all the way to the centre of Paris? That had escaped me.
Example 2: The pragmatism of selecting a unifying “culture” – any one will do if it works as a tool of governance. Did we know that Russia chose to import orthodox Christianity from pre-Ottoman Constantinople of the Roman Empire rather than Islam from their central Asian neighbours since that would have interfered with their Vodka drinking ?
Example 3: I didn’t know “Russia” was created by Rurik the Rus in (Ukrainian, Kievan) Novgorod. Given that the Rus were Vikings from the modern-day Norway /Sweden area – we all knew Vikings explored south down the Volga I guess – but I never knew the connection between the modern Scandinavian culture of Rus and the country that carries its name today. Intriguing fact among many in a recommended read. Perhaps no so far from the truth to brand modern Norway the last remaining soviet state. Kruschev and Gorbachev came so close … hang in there Russia.
Also picked-up – in true airport-bookstall anything will do purchasing mode – a copy of Le Carre’s Our Kind of Traitor, and also finished it in just a few days. Not his best, and a tough conversational style across first and third-persons, in a mix of real-time dialogue and reported narrative – you gotta keep up with who’s who. But purely coincidentally, tying up the current threads of Banking and Morality with Russian oligarchs, top-management, politicians, terrorists, spies and sport thrown in. Fun current-affairs-founded fiction.