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Letters from Russia (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – April 30, 2002


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Product Details

  • Series: New York Review Books Classics
  • Paperback: 640 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics (April 30, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0940322811
  • ISBN-13: 978-0940322813
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.1 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #928,641 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Language Notes

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: French

About the Author

Astolphe de Custine (1790-1857) was born at the onset of the French Revolution and died under the Second Empire. His father was guillotined and he and his mother barely survived the Terror. A poet and novelist of slight repute, Custine gained recognition with the publication of the travel books Spain under Ferdinand VII and Letters from Russia, an enduring analysis of the roots and character of Russian despotism. Anka Muhlstein was born in Paris in 1935. She settled in New York in 1974 where she began her career as a writer in French. She was awarded the Goncourt Prize in 1996 for her biography of Custine, and has twice received the History Prize of the French Academy.

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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Peter Hoogenboom on July 12, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"Letters from Russia" is a remarkable travelogue by Adolphe De Custine - a somewhat haughty Frenchman - who travelled to Imperial Russia in the middle of the 19th century.

De Custine himself was the descendant of aristocrats - his father and grandfather were both executed during the Terror in the aftermath of the French Revolution. De Custine was certainly convinced of the superiority of the aristocracy and Catholicism but was not taken with the Russian incarnation of these institutions.

What makes this book so interesting is De Custine's incredibly perceptive comment on the Russian psyche, which so easily explains how Russia could move from the tyranny of the all-knowing, all-powerful Tsar to the totalitarianism of the Communist regime.

De Custine writes in a florid, sentimental style, typical of the age, which makes this long book somewhat heavy going. However, there are plenty of zingers along the way and many beautiful descriptions of the Russian landscape to keep the reader entertained.

Probably not recommended to the average reader, but for students of Russian history this is certainly a "must-read".
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 5, 2002
Format: Paperback
The great classic work of Imperial Russia from a French Aristocrat who ultimately finds Russian Autocracy too much to take. Wordy, opinionated, and not very in depth, an essayist after the French style, Custine's letters are nevertheless invaluable to a student of Russia history or anyone who simply wants to understand imperial Russia. His description of St. Petersburg and Moscow, his personal meeting with Tsar Nicholas I, make it well worth it. While I don't agree with the idea that the Soviet period was simply an extension of Tsarist Russia, one nevertheless gets an idea of what Russia under Nicholas was like, and how the Revolutionaries gained a hearing in this atmosphere. Most importantly, its small enough to curl up in bed with!
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
How can I comment on an author's work who was ahead of his time? A first description ever to be written about Russian society and government. It has been re-translated within the past 10 years and I'm sure that most Russians still have never read it or know of its publication. No other western writer has authored a novel that was able to illustrate all of Russia. The book was prohibited from circulating in Russia at least two times because of the author's true account and how he observed life in Russia. I admire the author greatly on his attempt to illustrate the "people of the north" through his many accounts and interactions while he traveled between Moscow to St. Petersburg and to outlying regions inthe north. He was one of the only western authors to have an "ear" of the Tzar and his family at that time. Yet, he not only observes imperialism and the noble gentry, it was the observation of the commoner; working class, and peasantry societies that evokes a clear picture of 19th century Russia. I learned a lot about the author's recount of the living conditions and the travel conditions that I have not read previously. Some of his stories were very comical while others were just haring to read!

Although at times, the author is repetitive and some of his "letters" are quite long, he is quite foretelling that the Russian character; is more one of follower than leader, a life of servitude rather than liberty. It is really remarkable how one person can describe the character of a nation which is still relevant to 21st Century politics. Thievery, corruption, unimaginative, autocracy, despotism, lying, uninventive, religion, tolerance and absent of liberty are all topics of observation and thought provoking as the Russia that came after the authors demise.
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