Molotov's Magic Lantern: Travels in Russian History

Rachel Polonsky, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, $27 (416p) ISBN 978-0-374-21197-4
When she moves to Moscow, British journalist Polonsky discovers that the former apartment of Vyacheslav Molotov, Stalin's most loyal henchman, is right above hers. Purely by coincidence, she is conducted into Molotov's apartment and discovers, among other objects, much of the former leader's library, some of it crumbling to dust, and an old magic lantern. Like faded images waiting for the light of this antique slide projector, Russian history and the Russian present reveal themselves in glimpses, like figures rising out of the dark, to Polonsky. In this sometimes entertaining and sometimes dreary book of travels, Polonsky uses the rotting pages of the books in Molotov's library as a guide, sometimes tracing lines that lead to places of exile, quest, or crime. In her travels, Polonsky goes to Lake Ilmen, where Christianity challenged many pagan deities, as well as to the towns where Chekhov and Dostoyevski wrote their most famous works. Part memoir, part travelogue, and part literary history, Polonsky's reminiscences bring to life both the familiar and the obscure in Russian history and literature, and raise indirectly the question of how Molotov, with his deep love and apparent appreciation of literature, could be responsible for his role in the execution of so many writers during the 1930s purges. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 11/22/2010
Release date: 01/01/2011
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 416 pages - 978-0-374-53320-5
Open Ebook - 416 pages - 978-1-4299-7490-5
Paperback - 388 pages - 978-0-571-23781-4
Hardcover - 352 pages - 978-0-571-23780-7
Open Ebook - 416 pages - 978-0-571-25827-7
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