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.