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Herman: A Wilderness Saint: From Sarov, Russia to Kodiak, Alaska Paperback – October 12, 2012
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"[Lydia Black's] scholarship is a shining example of how the humanities can have a positive, lasting influence on the people they seek to interpret." —Aluutiq Museum
About the Author
Sergei Korsun is the chief specialist in the department of America at the Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography in St. Petersburg, Russia. Lydia Black was an American anthropologist and historian. She was a professor at the University of Alaska and an employee of the St. Herman Orthodox Theological Seminary. She was the recipient of the Order of Friendship Medal form the Russian Federation and the author of several books, including The Journals of Iakov Netsvetov: The Yukon Years, 1845–1863, Russians in Alaska, 1732–1867, and Russians in Tlingit America. Born in Kiev, Ukraine, she spent much of her life in Alaska. Daniel Marshall is the rector of the Holy Protection of the Virgin Mary Orthodox Church in Goshen, Indiana. A Russian-language translator, he is also the author of St. Seraphim's Beatitudes: Blessings for Our Path to Heaven. He lives in Middlebury, Indiana.
Top customer reviews
Before I begin my criticism, I first want to acknowledge what Korsun does right. He shines some light on Herman's early life certainly before the Alaskan mission and even before his life as a monk. Korsun's research is spot on, and his passion for his subject is tangible throughout the book. Enthusiasm and solid research are usually the beginning of a great history book, but unfortunately this is where things stop.
The first thing that strikes the reader is how absolutely bland Korsun's writing style is. Now this can be a product of bad translation (the original book is apparently in Russian) but something tells me even the best translator couldn't make up for this weakness. At some points the book reads almost like a chronology: "Herman did x y and z in 1802. In 1804 he did x" and so on. This obviously makes for some less than exciting reading, which can be tolerated in academic writing, but Korsun is just bland beyond what I thought was possible.
Next, it seems like much of the book is just reproductions of various letters and correspondence between the Russian missionaries and the secular authorities of the Russian American Company. Literally, for pages and pages, a long letter will be printed in lieu of a narrative. This again could be forgiven if most of these letters were from Herman, but it seems like maybe only a quarter actually are. Combined with the author's habit of either totally ignoring Herman for dozens of pages or addressing topics that barely pertain to the subject (mythical Novgorodians in Alaska?), I believe its safe to say the author's writing style is simply lazy.
Korsun claims to be writing a historical, not hagiographical life of Herman, but his actual writing fails to demonstrate this. I've read the official, Church sanctioned hagiography of Herman and this book, and honestly I can say there isn't much of a difference. I understand this is the biography of a saint, but Herman was also a historical person. There is never any real stabs at who this person was, a person who was undoubtedly fascinating and earned the respect of both his peers and his enemies. Korsun just simply lists his actions, coupled with extensive reproduced letters, and expects this to be a biography. The book just demands the story of Herman be taken up by another author.
Overall, I found this book disappointing. I was disappointed because this book could of been so much, and instead was sadly so little.
Korsun has done a fine job of chronologically presenting the primary sources in a way that allows the reader to envision the flow of the Saint's life. He demonstrates how the real hardships of the time - both from St. Herman's life of asceticism, and from the political and economic corruption that permeated this Russian colony - impacted him and the native population.
As a result, the reality of St. Herman's experiences - and the reaction to the Saint by those around him - seem more real than they would have if a large part of the book had been made up by the author in an attempt to make it more novel-like.