Monday, 21 November 2016

I have so enjoyed Helen Rappaport's very readable account of events in Petrograd, from the outbreak of revolution in February, 1917, to the Bolshevik coup in October, all told from the point of view of foreigners in the city - the diplomats and their wives, Red Cross nurses and socialites, Mrs Pankhurst meddling rather uselessly, journalists who sometimes took sides (but this book is so much more readable than John Reed's Ten Days That Shook the World, which when I plodded through it years ago was heavy-going) and one particularly engaging character, the American ambassador's black valet Phil Jordan who really merits a novel in his own right.
Helen Rappaport has the knack of making you feel that you're there ... smelling the fumes, as the Bolsheviks swill thousands of bottles of brandy and wine from the city's wine cellars into the gutters.
How I wish I'd been able to read this before my one and only visit to the city when it was still Leningrad, accompanied by a boyfriend who was rather horrified by my ignorance ... now I know why we had to make that detour to the Smolny Institute! The storming of the Winter Palace ... I was there! Oh dear, the opportunities that are wasted on the young. But I must have been absorbing it all, because I've rather surprised myself with the strong visual memories that have floated to the surface as I've been reading this book. Now I think of it, we were there in October coming up to an anniversary ... I remember looking out of a window in Moscow and seeing tanks rolling into Red Square.
Anyway, 5* for Helen Rappaport and this is a strong contender for my Book of the Year.


Mystica said...

Thank you for the review.

Mary said...

I went to a talk by Helen Rappaport a few weeks ago, Mystica - and she made this sound so interesting, I knew I had to read it.

Ann said...

I am glad you found this book as good as I am expecting it to be. I bought it at the Kew event because HR is such a good speaker and have read three of her other books. I also heard her speak at little old Hampton library which was a real treat.
She is at the top of the league of historical non fiction as far as I am concerned. Thanks for the encouragement to get the book off my TBR read pile soon!

Mary said...

Yes, worth putting to the top of the pile, Ann. I borrowed this and the Elizabeth Jane Howard biog as a result of that day at Kew and read EJH first as it seemed a quicker read; but the Russian one is very readable and more rewarding. I must try her other books; the only one I have read is Ekaterinburg.