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Russian Talk: Culture and Conversation during Perestroika Hardcover – July 10, 1997

ISBN-13: 978-0801433856 ISBN-10: 0801433851 Edition: 1st
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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

In 1989-90, anthropologist Ries (Colgate Univ.) studied the conversations of educated urban Russians and identified recurrent forms of speech, including the litany, the lament, the first-person trickster narrative, and "tales of heroic shopping." Ries skillfully draws connections among these speech forms and the construction of personal and national identity, traditional Russian folklore genres, and contemporary political and media discourse. She argues that while these enduring narrative forms enabled Russians to adapt psychologically to hardship and oppression, they may have prevented people from taking effective action during the relatively liberated era of perestroika. Unfortunately, this interesting interdisciplinary study is often rambling and poorly organized; for example, the author's synopsis of recent Russian history and her presentation of perestroika as a "macro-scale rite of passage" belong in the introduction rather than the conclusion. For specialists in Russian studies, folklore, and linguistic anthropology.?Judy Sierra, Eugene, Ore.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.


"Ries masterfully combines the techniques of a social historian with those of a folklorist engaged in the study of traditional ethnography. The resulting methodological synthesis provides unique insight into the mechanisms of cultural transmission during a turbulent period of Russian history. . . Her book represents a powerful new tool to inform the research of other social historians, as well as a fascinating tale in its own right—a series of vignettes on the lives of common Russians during an epoch of recent history that already seems irretrievably long past. Anyone seriously interested in Russia's cultural forms should read this book."—Choice

"Ries skillfully draws connections among the Russian speech forms and the construction of the personal and national identity, traditional Russian folklore genres, and contemporary political and media discourse."—Library Journal

"Russian Talk so illuminates the dynamic of conversation with and among Russians that it would be tempting to focus on the value of the work for individuals who plan to participate in Russian culture. But to do so would neglect the originality, meticulous research, and seamless writing that characterize this first monograph. . . . In addition to the thought-provoking scholarship, Ries's discussion of conversation sheds light on the frustration that Americans encounter when their proposed solutions to problems raised in the litanies are 'met with silence.'"—H-Russia, H-Net Reviews

"The elegant ease with which Nancy Ries spans the distance between discourse theory abstractions and conversational fragments steeped in raw emotions is remarkable. There is so much in her account that rings true. . . . A first-rate piece of scholarship. Nancy Ries has done a great service by showing how contemporary discourse analysis can fashion fieldwork in a discipline that has often lagged behind in theoretical advances. I highly recommend her study to all Russianists with an ear for language and a knack for lore."—Slavic Review

"Cutting a different path through the by-now-traditional political and historical scholarship on perestroika, Nancy Ries offers a painstaking ethnographic portrayal of the moral and affective worlds governing that period. In Russian Talk, Ries considers how Russians, faced with social upheaval, collective fragmentation, and disorientation, commented upon the absurdity of their destinies and the injustice and suffering they experienced while negotiating everyday survival."—American Journal of Sociology

"Russian Talk is one of the most original current analyses of perestroika and the immediate post-Communist era. . . . Ries's innovative approach and sensitive analysis makes this book essential for any scholar engaged in research in post-Soviet Russia. . . . Russian Talk is a very timely book for any scholar of the former Soviet Union and will also be very useful for scholars interested in studying identity formation and social change."—American Anthropologist

"A fascinating and beautifully-written book. . . . Historians will find Ries's study exceptionally useful."—Russian Review

"This book succeeds in three ways; it is very entertaining, a 'good read'; it is a mine rich in raw materials, reports of talks, actions, other social data from which the reader can draw his own conclusions and puzzlements; and it supplies valuable theories, hypotheses, conclusions."—Slavonica

"If Ries should turn out more books on par with this one, the strength of their material and her writing will ensure that they are the stuff of good reading, and good talk."—Canadian Slavonic Papers

"Ries's effort is outstanding in both description and theory. . . . To sum up, I can definitely recommend Ries's book to those interested in linguistic anthropology."—Andrea Agnes Remenyi, Language in Society

"No one in Russian studies will be able to ignore this book. It truly engaged me. Ries has staked out her position forcefully and presented strong evidence. I think she will become famous as the author of the 'Ries thesis'—that what is Russian about Russians is constituted through talk."—John Bushnell, Northwestern University

"Anthropologist Nancy Ries went to Russia to listen to Muscovites as they talked about the many alterations that perestroika was making in the fabric of their lives. The result is a book that is at once superb scholarship, a treasure trove of urban folklore, and an exciting contribution to discussions of Russian identity in the late twentieth century. If you want to know what people say around the kitchen table when civilization is changing outside their windows then you can find no better source than Russian Talk."—Kathleen Parthé, University of Rochester

"This is a wonderfully informative and readable analysis of the literary and symbolic aspects of Russian speech. Ries maps the stance of the Russian intelligentsia with insight and compassion."—David Ransel, Indiana University

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press; 1 edition (July 10, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801433851
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801433856
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 6.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #7,038,558 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Alexander D. King on April 12, 2004
Format: Paperback
Ries's book has become one of the must-cite books among anthropologists working in Russia or the xSSR. This is one of the first, if not the first ethnographic work based on research in an urban setting. Anthropologists typically head to the tundra or the villages, but most Russians live in very large cities. She presents an ethnography of conversations, usually in the kitchen around drinking tea, which provides fascinating insights into the daily lives of urban people during perestroika. She includes an epilogue describing some of the changes after the fall of the Soviet Union.
This is an ethnography, and not linguistic analysis or conversation analysis, so people looking for that kind of work may be disappointed. On the other hand, this is a book accessible to non-academics if you are willing to put in a little effort working through the subtle arguments.
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Format: Paperback
I am not a scholar, I am just interested in everything related to the USSR - history, culture, politics. I am happy I've found this book. It helped me to understand much more about the Soviet way of life than many other books and movies.
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