Beginning in the eighteenth century with the building of St. Petersburg and culminating with the Soviet regime, Figes examines how writers, artists, and musicians grappled with the idea of Russia itself--its character, spiritual essence, and destiny. Skillfully interweaving the great works--by Dostoevsky, Stravinsky, and Chagall--with folk embroidery, peasant songs, religious icons, and all the customs of daily life, Figes reveals the spirit of "Russianness" as rich and uplifting, complex and contradictory--and more lasting than any Russian ruler or state.
Best Book I Read In 2002
By Bruce Loveitt - December 4, 2002
I usually like to give my reviews catchy little titles. I was going to call this one "Fabulous Figes". I finally decided it was more important to just come right out and say this is the best book I read this year. Of course, if we were in January or February, that statement wouldn't mean too much! (Kind of like movie reviews that come out early in the year..."Best Darn Romantic Comedy I've Seen...So Far!) Since we're in December, and considering I've read about 70 books this year, that makes the statement a little more impressive. Okay, so now I've got to "put my money where my mouth is" and tell you what makes "Natasha's Dance" so good. First, the book is beautifully written. It is lyrical, poignant, funny, thoughtful, etc. Like all good popular historians, Mr. Figes has a novelist's flair. Second, the book is wonderfully structured. The author decided to give each chapter a particular theme. So, despite the daunting task Mr. Figes has assigned himself (a cultural history of... read more
Why Rachel Polonsky is wrong
By susan - February 23, 2003
I disagree with the reviewer who finds this not quite "heavyweight" enough. It is not an academic book - and thank God for that - but a superb introduction to the history and the culture of Russia.Figes starts with a wonderful account of the building of St Petersburg in the 1700s, and goes on to discuss the meaning of Europe to Russian culture in the eighteenth century. Europe caused a split in the Russian national identity - and much of Russian culture in the nineteenth century was concerned with how to reconcile the two almost contradictory halves of the Russian character: the native Russian (or Muscovite) and the European (or Petrine). The next chapter takes up the story of 1812, when Russia's writers and artist first began to think about the ways of developing a distinctively "Russian style" in contrast to the West. This is when the Slavophiles were born. There are lots of fascinating details here - on the Russian customs of child-rearing, on interior design and Russian... read more
Like Chichikov's carriage, a wild ride through Russia.
By James Ferguson - November 6, 2003
Although Figes takes the title from Natasha's dance in "War and Peace," he could have just as easily used Chichikov from "Dead Souls" as his vehicle, as he takes the reader along on a wild ride through Russia's rich cultural history. Figes explores his chapters thematically, exploring a compelling set of Russian ideas that revolve around the East-West duality that is so apparent in the works of great Russian artists, writers and musicians. Figes seems to be more at home when exploring the themes found in the great classical compositions, providing wonderful character sketches of composers such as Stravinsky, Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky.He also takes on virtually all of the major Russian novels of the past two centuries, starting with "Eugene Onegin," noting the inspirations and the thoughts that pervaded these works. He notes that it was Pushkin who gave Russia a literary voice, which it would never forsake, as each writer that succeeded him built on... read more
When former heavyweight champion Jim Jeffries came out of retirement on the fourth of July, 1910 to fight current black heavywight champion Jack Johnson in Reno, Nevada, he boasted that he was doing ...