Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Book: Susan Richards' "Lost And Found In Russia"

Continuing my oppressed nation tour, my next read was Susan Richards' "Lost and Found in Russia: Lives in the Post-Soviet Landscape".

Richards attempts to tell the transition Russia went through after the breakup of the Soviet Union through the stories of six people who she met and befriended in her travels.  I say she attempts because her narrative is a bit disjointed and scattershot.  She starts off trying to see the transition through the experiences of Russian Germans who were settled in the town of Marx south-east of Moscow and on the banks of the Volga river.  This doesn't really pan out as no one wants to talk.

The book appears to digress briefly as Richards delves into Russian occult beliefs, cults, orthodoxy, UFOs, glowing sky people, and psychotronic weaponry.  This threw me for a while but as the book progressed it made more sense.  The 90s in Russia were chaotic years.  The religion of the Soviet Union, Communism, has been dismantled leaving millions of people rudderless.  There was this dream of liberal democracy in the distance but up close all they saw was corruption and decay.  The Russian people grasped at anything to give order back to their lives and this was often ancient religions and cults or sci-fi alien and psychic weaponry of some imagined future.  You realize that the 90s in Russia was filled with people flailing around to find something new to believe in and to guide them.

Eventually, when liberal democracy does not come to the rescue, autocracy in the form of Vladimir Putin steps in.  You can see the hopes of the democrats fade and their realization that they have returned to soviet times, though with a capitalist twist.

The book ends in 2008.  There is no positive, hopeful ending in this book.  You realize that the West had an opportunity in the 90s that was squandered and we have to admit that Russia will not be a liberal democracy anytime soon.

Richards' writing is as chaotic as Russia in the 90s.  She often jumps to and fro with little warning.  You almost feel that she believes some of the paranormal stuff the Russians have turned to.  After reading "Nothing to Envy" which also is written using interviews and experiences of the local people, I was a bit disappointed with Richards' book.  A little more coherence and bit more objectivity would have made this a better book and not just a quirky interesting read.

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