Reading Update

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.

2 thoughts on “Reading Update”

  1. Napoleon did not just got close to the heart of Moscow. He’d really occupied Moscow, and stayed in Kremlin. Then Russians ignited the city and burned the biggest part of it, and Napoleon moved out of the devastated city.

    As for Paris – had you ever heard about the origin of “bistro” name for food outlet? It is Russian “quickly” – cossacks thus shouted at waiters.

    As for the religion choice – Knyaz Vladimir had a hard time choosing between vodka and polygamy. Jews had no chances at this contest, the legend says.

  2. Yes, I realised as I wrote the brief summary above I was conflating the Napoleon and Hitler stories.

    And now you mention it (it is mentioned in the book too) I think I did know the origin of bistro – I had just never associated it with Napoleon’s retreat.

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