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Comment: Condition: Very good condition., Very good dust jacket. Binding: Hardcover. / Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux / Pub. Date: 2011-01-04 Attributes: Book, 416 pp / Stock#: 2010948 (FBA) * * *This item qualifies for FREE SHIPPING and Amazon Prime programs! * * *
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Molotov's Magic Lantern: Travels in Russian History Hardcover – January 4, 2011


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition edition (January 4, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374211973
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374211974
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.5 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #826,496 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* British writer Polonsky moved to Moscow and took up residence in a once-opulent old building that had been a favorite of the Soviet elite, including the monstrous Vyacheslav Molotov, Stalin’s second in command. Invited into Molotov’s apartment, still owned by his granddaughter, Polonsky is morbidly fascinated by Molotov’s belongings, including a magic lantern and a stash of books from his formerly enormous library. And so begins Polonsky’s book-steered journey through modern Russian history. Cogently descriptive, empathic, plucky, and acerbic, Polonsky begins with a tour of Moscow’s grim landmarks of the Stalin era, then ventures out into the countryside, excavating the tragic and heroic stories of writers and scientists who suffered banishment and worse, many the victims of Molotov’s industrious murderousness. She visits the site of Dostoyevsky’s dacha and Rostov-on-Don, the world of the Cossacks, which Isaac Babel so bravely infiltrated. She travels north to the formidable Kola Peninsula, then to Siberia, the realm of shamans, exiles, and prisoners; a Buddhist enclave along the Mongolian border; and imperiled Lake Baikal. Polonsky is so steeped in Russian history and literature that everywhere she goes, her inner magic lantern projects the past onto the present, the imagined onto the real, and what we see is an illuminated land of immense brutality and beauty, suffering and spirit. --Donna Seaman

Review

Praise for Molotov's Magic Lantern

“A modern classic.” —The Economist
 
“Cogently descriptive, empathic, plucky, and acerbic, Polonsky begins with a tour of Moscow’s grim landmarks of the Stalin era, then ventures out into the countryside, excavating the tragic and heroic stories of writers and scientists who suffered banishment and worse, many the victims of Molotov’s industrious murderousness . . . Polonsky is so steeped in Russian history and literature that everywhere she goes, her inner magic lantern projects the past onto the present, the imagined onto the real, and what we see is an illuminated land of immense brutality and beauty, suffering and spirit.” —Donna Seaman, Booklist

“The result is an eccentric work, daring in conception, peculiar in construction, that incorporates all Polonsky’s teeming scholarly knowledge of Russia and the Russian people . . . In the course of her travels, Polonsky visits monasteries, dachas, sanatoriums and bath houses. Her chapter on Siberia in particular offers a meticulous reportage tinged with poetry, in which almost every page radiates gem-like images and an impressive literary craft . . . A magnificent achievement, in which Russia emerges as less a nation than a marvellous region of the mind.” —Ian Thomson, The Irish Times

“It’s a gem . . . [Polonsky] has achieved the unimaginable: a serious non-fiction account of Russia, which is as wide-ranging as it is entertaining . . . This is a wonderful account of a changing Russia . . . If you have always wanted to read an accessible, profound and original history of modern Russia, this is the book for you. It’s a challenging and demanding read but one that is hugely rewarding.” —Viv Groskop, Sunday Express

“As promising and enticing as a novel . . . An unexpectedly delightful literary travelogue . . . Polonsky is not so much a wanderer as a meanderer of the mind . . . And Molotov’s Magic Lantern is not a piece of history, nor of literary criticism, but a pocket torch shone into the nooks and crannies between the two.” —Wendell Steavenson, The Sunday Times

“Polonsky's detail-studded hybrid of travelogue, biography and political and cultural history is dense and scholarly, and dares to lack a dominant propulsive narrative . . . Rather, it beautifully competes with Russia’s endemic cultural amnesia to refract a terrifying national legacy through a bloodied sequence of endlessly shimmering stories, over which the figure of Putin still resolutely lies.” —Metro

“As promising and enticing as a novel . . . An unexpectedly delightful literary travelogue . . . Polonsky is not so much a wanderer as a meanderer of the mind. And Molotov’s Magic Lantern is not a piece of history, nor of literary criticism, but a pocket torch shone into the nooks and crannies between the two.” —The Sunday Times

“Polonsky's detail-studded hybrid of travelogue, biography and political and cultural history is dense and scholarly, and dares to lack a dominant propulsive narrative. Rather, it beautifully competes with Russia’s endemic cultural amnesia to refract a terrifying national legacy through a bloodied sequence of endlessly shimmering stories, over which the figure of Putin still resolutely lies.” — Metro

“[An] elegant book . . . This is a many-layered portrait in which the strands of Russia past and present, town and countryside, real and intellectual, are interwoven with skill and . . . erudition.” —Mary Dejevsky, The Independent

“Fascinating skatulochka—jewellery box—of Russian history . . . Polonsky’s description of the far north of Russia made me long to visit, with its ‘other-wordly’ landscape. [Polonsky] achieves a more profound understanding of Putin’s Russia than many other foreign observers.” —Charlotte Hobson, The Daily Telegraph

“Polonsky weaves an extraordinary web of connections between people, places and books. Her own work seems to belong to no known genre. It is neither political history, nor literary criticism, nor travelogue reportage; yet it combines some of the best features of all three, illuminating aspects of Russian cultural life . . . What is utterly fresh about this book is the personal engagement with the material, the capturing of place, mood and tone . . . The command of detail is absolutely masterly.” —The Sunday Telegraph

“Perceptive and erudite . . . [Polonsky] has produced a spectacular and enjoyable display of intellectual fireworks for the general reader . . . Ms Polonsky wears her considerable learning lightly . . . She has a knack for putting herself into other people's shoes with empathy and skill . . . The contempt she feels for the greed, filth and viciousness that she encounters is all the more compelling for being understated. Her sympathy and affection for the finest bits of Russia's past and present shine through . . . The reader catches only fleeting glimpses of Ms Polonsky herself. That contrasts pleasingly with the self-centredness that is present in so much other Western writing about Russia. As her book shows, the author has grit, charm and style—and a gift for traveller’s tales.” —The Economist

“Everywhere on this journey, Polonsky shows great curiosity about the web of personality and history, and the connections between power and literature that form Russian history and society today, her erudition is always lightly-worn . . . I was gripped by this book—a delicious celebration of Russia, old and modern, from Pushkin to Putin, not only a guide to obscure places but also a meanderingly whimsical map of the soul and daily life of Russia, a luminous, charming and fascinating masterclass on literature, power, tragedy and death.” —Simon Sebag Montefiore, Evening Standard

“[Polonsky’s] book is as sensitive to literature and history as it is to the merely exotic, and she combines impressive scholarship, the work of years, with an admirably languid delicacy of touch . . . Polonsky’s imagination is mercurial, and it is for that, not Stalin’s grisly comrade, that the book delights . . . Anyone who loves Russia will be entertained, and some who do not may be tempted to start an adventure of their own . . . It is as delicate and enriching as a Russian poem, and it will certainly make a new generation of visitors to Russia think more colourfully about Europe's closest, endlessly surprising, other.” —Catherine Merridale, Literary Review


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Rachel Polonsky has helped us do that.
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I just finished reading this marvelous book, and I strongly recommend it to anyone who has any interest at all in Russia, Russian history, or Russian literature.
JC
I savored each descriptive passage with great pleasure.
Joe Roberts

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Jill Meyer TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 29, 2011
Format: Hardcover
British writer Rachel Polonsky lived in Moscow with her husband and four children for many years in the 1990's and later. As a Cambridge-educated journalist, she brought her writer's eye to the both the Russian capital and the outlying areas she visited during her years in Russia.

The Polonsky's main residence in Moscow was a large apartment building, #3 Romanov Street, near the center of the city. Many famous Russians had lived in the building, including Vyacheslav Molotov, close ally of Josef Stalin, and a man who had signed many death warrants as Stalin's aide. He also, of course, was a diplomat who concluded a pact with Germany's Joachim Ribbentrop in 1939, essentially keeping the USSR out of WW2 until the German invasion in June, 1941.

Among the other notables who had lived in the building were Leon Trotsky and several noted artists, politicians, and scientists. Now the building seemed occupied by wealthy Russian capitalists and foreigners posted to Moscow after the fall of Communism in 1989.

Polonsky takes the reader on a rather idiosyncratic look at both modern Russian society and that of the past, particularly in the later years of the Tsar and the Stalinist years. Most of what she writes about, most of whom she writes about, and most of where she writes about, have a connection to the past. In Russia today its not hard to be faced with echos of the past everywhere you go. Polonsky writes about places - Murmansk, Novgorad, Irkutsk, and many others - she visited. She's very good at tying loose pieces of history and society together. Many of these relate back to Molotov, who's tentacles seemed to have reached out over the years to touch many things.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Paul E. Richardson VINE VOICE on February 16, 2011
Format: Hardcover
A discovered library once owned by Vyacheslav Molotov, who was apparently an ardent bibliophile, provides the pretext for a string of fascinating forays into Russian history, literature, science and life. Polonsky writes beautifully, in the dense manner of Helprin or Hempel, forcing the reader to slow down and carefully take in the masses of information she has layered into each paragraph, each story, each curious little tidbit (like the shopping list Molotov wrote on the back of Vyshinsky's 1952 speech to the General Assembly: "door handles, shelf with mirror, pegs for the bathroom."

In fact, the book itself is like roaming the stacks of an amazingly rich library, finding bits of paper slipped in as bookmarks, referencing another work that you must then seek out, a trail leading through the dusty corridors of Russian literature - to Chekhov and Dostoyevsky, Akhmatova and Shalamov - and into previously hidden rooms - like the Academy of Sciences retreat outside Moscow, or to the docks of Murmansk during Lend-Lease, where starving prisoners ate the grease off an American bulldozer, convinced it was butter.

There are riches here. Stories that will send you digging into history books (could that really have happened), biographical notes that seem utterly unimaginable, and thus completely true. Get this book, steep a large pot of tea, and dig in.

As reviewed in Russian Life
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Susan Southworth on April 23, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Red Terror emanated from No. 3 Granovsky Street, the address at the heart of the gentlest book imaginable. In Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Molotov's drawing room winding the brass handle of his magic lantern "... a staring shaman in torn trousers and a crooked hat.." slipped out of the dark. And so begins our journey through Russian literature, history, architecture, fashion and food in the Soviet era and the century that preceded it. In Rachel Polonsky's magic lantern of a book, there are unexpected connections between and curious details about prominent political, military, scientific and musical figures of Russia. Most of all, we enter the intimate premises of Russian life, where the author was embraced so warmly as she settled in Moscow and a dacha in the colony designed by avant garde architect, Alexei Viktorovich Schusev. Superbly knowledgeable in Russian literature of many centuries, everything she sees reminds her of a phrase from her favorite poets, composers or new evidence of famous scientists surprising association with the place.

This is a book every lover of Russia will return to again and again, and those who look askance at this giant of a country, need it more.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on September 29, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Molotov's Magic Lantern took me on a marvelous ride through Russian History without the burdens of past Cold War propaganda to wade through. And for this alone, I am grateful. More wonderful than even that, the weaving of cultural and historical information creates an unforgettable picture of the world of Stalinist Russia. By including historical anecdotes relating to the experiences of people under Tsarist secret police repression, Polonsky brings a refreshing perspective onto the excesses of Stalin and his chief henchman, Molotov. Those of us who have lived long enough to experience the mysterious web of history working its way through our lives, sometimes unconsciously, but always with amazing, almost predetermined outcomes, the stories of personal and political life that Polonsky writes about have the ring of truth and provide profound insights. The history of Tsarist Russia up to 1917 was a history of autocratic absolutism wrapped up in the Orthodox fatalism of the Christian faith. The oppression of centuries of serfdom and autocratic secret police exploded in the nobility's faces in 1917. Their former subjects rose up and wiped the nobility off the face of the earth. The regime these revolutionaries created then fell into the deep ruts of Russian History and reproduced the absolutist autocracy that had come before it. The immense brutality and cultural loss of the Stalinist Purges should not prevent us from seeing its continuity with Russia's past. Rachel Polonsky has helped us do that. An excellent and unique book worth reading and rereading. And having read it digitally, I followed her journey on Google Earth, and searched for names and places throughout my reading. An amazing trip through history.
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