BOOK BOOKS Mud and Stars Author Sara Wheeler –

BOOK BOOKS Mud and Stars Author Sara Wheeler –

I hate to say it but I found this to be a strange and disappointing book Ms Wheeler mentions in her introduction that during the book s gestation her life went awry badly I think and she ut it away for a while before returning to it The book for me only had life in the chapters about Chekhov and Goncharov most of the rest was a slog Whilst there is some good writing and some interesting vi I love so many of the authors that Wheeler followed and I enjoyed seeing where they lived hearing their lives and the way she connected them That was beautiful Some of the travelogue Rock Lead Basics parts were less interesting thought it was fascinating to see the run up to the Sochi Olympics through her eyes I really liked the idea of this book in which the author follows in the footsteps of great Russian authors and while this did happen Sara Wheeler s own battles with the Russian language and attempts at cooking the food distract from this She does go into great descriptions of the authors their lives and impact they had and she visitslaces where they lived or travelled I really enjoyed this aspect of the book The other experiences were amusing and interesting but didn t add to the book for me Wheeler follows in the footsteps of Dostoyevsky Gogol Chekov and other 19th century authors connecting them to Putin s Russia of today You needn t have read or well remember the writers detailed to enjoy this wryly told traveler s tale Wheeler reminds me a lot of Susan Orlean another writer who never seems to Lightning Over Bennett Ranch put her foot wrong Fascinating snapshots of Russian writers in Russia s Golden Age of Literature broadly the 19th century Pushkin until the death of Tolstoy in 1910 Biographies with theirersonality traits I never knew Tolstoy was such a horrible Sri Sumarah, Pariyem dan Bu Bei person for one interspersed with manyhotographs The author travelled to Class Struggles places important in the writers lives it was interesting to compare then through the writers lives and now through the author s travels I enjoyed reading about lesser known figures such as Fet aoet think of an Emily Dickinson comparison Goncharov known for Oblomov which variations on the extremely slothful character s name have entered the Russian language and Leskov an uneven writer known Wilfred Owen (Routledge Revivals) principally for his masterwork the novella Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk turned into an opera by Shostakovich Some of her musings on the currentolitical situation in Russia got boring Study to Teach pretty uickly Recommended A curious book Basic outlines of the life and works of great 19th century writers along with travelogues reports ofrogress in learning the Russian language and cookery It fails to come together although there are interesting snippets along the way and I ve added some Russian novels to my TBR I d recommend Natasha s Dance A Cultural History of Russia and The Possessed Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them instead Ok for a first go at Russian literature Nothing especially insightful if you ve read the works andor other commentary If you do read it and want on Pushkin ie a wry modern take on Pushkin worship in the Soviet era look for Pushkin Hills by Dovlatov Mud and Stars Travels in Russia with Pushkin and Other Geniuses of the Golden Age Human All Too HumanBy 1942. With the writers of the Golden Age as her guides Pushkin Tolstoy Gogol and Turgenev among others Sara Wheeler searches for a Russia not in the news traveling from rinsed northwestern beet fields and the Far Eastern Arctic tundra to the cauldron of nation­alities religions and languages in the Caucasus Bypassing major cities as much as Global Corporations in Global Governance possible she goes instead to thelaces associated with the country’s literary masters With her we see the fabled Trigorskoye

When hunger defeat and deprivation had begun to stalk the Germans who had attacked USSR realization dawned among the upper echelons of the Nazis commander that the Russian landscape was the real enemy In a letter to his wife in Germany Generalfeldmarschall Karl von Runstedt sums this reality despairingly The vastness of Russia devours us For much of modern history when talking about Russia outsiders have Angels in Harmony parceled out that very same immensity one sixth of earth s surface in simple minded ways to make their narratives manageable For cultural historians it is the European versus the Asiatic Russia forolitical theorists it is the centralizing imperatives versus resistance movements for historians of 19th century it the French speaking elite versus the Russian masses below Tsarists versus Communists in 1917 and so on Such dichotomies of convenience often hope to describe a true Russia Sara Wheeler s Mud and Stars biographies wrapped in a travelogue inside a Sketchy Behavior personal diary attempts to do something similar She does this despite cautiously acknowledging that there is no such thing as the Russian soul orerhaps even Russian culture it is too big a country For her however real Russia is outside Moscow and St Petersburg where inkpot vendettas among intellectuals and Kremlin s authoritarianism has disfigured anything that matters Like many before her she heads out into those vast spaces where a Autumn Brides peacefulopulation lived its age old life of toil and repose joy and suffering She travels cheaply lives in homestays learns some Russian and travels that sprawling sovereign land in search of 19th century Russian authors who Wheeler claims represents the country even today The book s conceit therefore is that 19th century authors Pushkin Tolstoy Dostoyevsky Gogol Turgenev et al have something to tell us about today s Russia In The Princess and the Three Knights practice what this translates to is the author traveling from town to village where relevant authorial houses and estates have survived in molested or refurbished conditions All of this is of course uite romantic and yet curious It strains belief that Henry James or Ralph Emerson have much to tell us about Trump s America or that O Chandu Menon or Mirza Ghalib can tell us much about Modi s India But to uibble on thisoint is foolish The aim of the book is not social realism or even diagnosis but an author s efforts to glean truths from the lives of great Russian novelists that speaks to her experience of Russia Once we the reader grant Wheeler this allowance she is a terrific companion Witty scholarly without being The Beauty of Believing pedantic a sharp observer of changing moods and in love with that behemoth land If there is one common thread running through her narratives about the diverse group of 19th century writers she writes about as oneart devotee one Sticky Church part tourist it is that we are all idiots or sinners in one way or Her love and admiration for them is not despite their emotional warts and moral disfigurations butrecisely because of it It is in their frailties failings and idiosyncrasies she seeks to locate their humanity which may or not be Russian in some elusive sense The result is we learn about the colourful and the Forbidden Love Unchained perverse Pushkin we learn was an inveterate bedho. ??three hills” estate that Pushkin freuented during his exile nowreserved in his honor We look for Dostoevsky along the waters of Lake Ilmen site of the only house the restless writer ever owned We Witches of the Deep South pay tribute to the single stone that remains of Tol­stoy’s birthplace Wheeler weaves these writers’ lives and works around their historical homes giving us richortraits of the many diverse Russias from which these writers spoke As she travels Wheeler follows.

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Pper who wrote and how transcendentally beautifully at that only when he was laid low by sexually transmitted diseases Even Stalin and his Communist thugs who murdered hundreds of writers in the 1930s decided to consecrate Pushkin as a semi divine being Dostoyevsky meanwhile was a Christian traditionalist an anti semite in Metro 2033 (Universo Metro) private an anti modernist inublic who repeatedly Christianity pawned his belongings for the nihilistic highs of gambling Amidst theserivate torments he wrote novels about murderers whose conscience was sharper than the very axe they wielded on their victims and in his Run for Your Life (Michael Bennett, personal life he wrote love letters occasionally twice a day to his long suffering wiferomising to change himself Thankfully for us the readers he never did In contrast Turgenev was six feet three spoke fifteen languages or so we learn from Wheeler and stood in opposition to everything Dostoyevsky s Alice-Miranda at Camp peasant conservatism claimed to represent If Dostoyevsky was a bone deep reactionary for whom life was a curse and aenance Turgenev was a constitutional liberal who had little use for all the mystical talk of the Russian Orthodox Church The great Flaubert wrote to him from Paris there s only one man left in the world now with whom I can talk and that s you Turgenev never married and was in love with a mother of four children none of them were his for nearly forty years As Wheeler writes wisely he learnt to love without The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature (Penguin Press Science) (English Edition) possessing Elsewhere in other corners of the Russian literary forest of the 19th century many magnificent monosyllabic giants strolled and raised hell Gogol Herzen Goncharov Fet Leskov and Lermontov Each of them is fascinating even if breezily described by Wheeler in theirrivate miseries and The Association of Small Bombs public efforts to write meaningfully It iserhaps revealing that out of the 255 Wilderness Survival Handbook pages it is the chapter on Chekhov about whom I heard the great Indian writer M T Vasudevan Nair describe as ente gurunathan my teacher and master that one remembers well after the book is done Overwhelmingly this is because of Chekhov s humanity that arousesathos in us As a doctor Chekhov spent countless hours with the diseased and dying He famously uipped medicine was his wife but writing was his mistress Like Chekhov Wheeler treks to Siberia only to discover that awe inspiring land of brutal cold and Stalinist gulags was still The White Mans Burden peopled by stories of everyday despair and hope The melancholy in Chekhov s stories oftenrecipitated by his recognition about the irrelevance of human endeavors in face of time Visit the Sick presaged the fact that Chekhovhysician of body and mind died at the young age of forty four in Germany His body was returned to Moscow as Gorky noted in a refrigerated railway carriage reserved to transport fresh oysters The last c Audiobook versionSara Wheeler set out to explore the locations of the writers of the Russian Golden Age Pushkin Tolstoy Golgo Dostoevsky and others She mostly bypassed the major cities and visited off the beaten Carry Me Over the Threshold pathlaces of Russia like the Arctic Siberia and the Caucasus This is both a literary exploration and a travelogueI am a big fan of the Russian Golden age and of travelogues set in Eastern Europe so this book really appealed to me I haven t read all of the classic works. Local guides boards with families in modest homestays eats roe and The Courtship Basket pelmeni and cabbage soup invokes recipes from Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking learns the language and observes theattern of outcry and silence that characterizes life under Vladimir Putin Illustrated with both historical images and contemporary snapshots of the Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 2 Samuel (The Expositors Bible Commentary peo­ple andlaces that shaped her journey Mud and Stars gives us timely witty and deeply ersonal insights into Russia then and

Sara Wheeler was brought up in Bristol and studied Classics and Modern Languages at Brasenose College University of Oxford After writing about her travels on the Greek island of Euboea and in Chile she was accepted by the US National Science Foundation as their first female writer in residence at the South Pole and spent seven months in AntarcticaIn her resultant book Terra Incognita Travels

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