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Black Earth City: A Year in the Heart of Russia Hardcover – 21 Jun 2001

11 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Granta Books; 1st Edition edition (21 Jun. 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1862073996
  • ISBN-13: 978-1862073999
  • Product Dimensions: 19.2 x 13.6 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,030,581 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Amazon Review

While Charlotte Hobson's beautiful and moving debut book, Black Earth City, is likely to end up on the travel shelves of bookshops, it is much more than a straightforward narrative. Telling of a year spent in provincial Russia at the end of the Soviet era, Hobson's narrative also triumphantly comes to embrace the passions of friendship and love.

Hobson begins her book in 1991, when she moves to Voronezh, south of Moscow. Beginning with a chaotic hostel, and then moving through the break-up of Soviet life, Black Earth City introduces us to many vivid characters, which provide a compelling portrait of Russia and the Russians. But the book's centrepiece is Hobson's love affair with Mitya, a young man whose dissolution and disillusion mirror the tragedy simultaneously being undergone by the Soviet Union.

The detail of the relationship with Mitya is rich and honest, and indeed the whole book is suffused with such elegant prose that reading it is a real pleasure. As we are drawn into Hobson's circle of friends, and their affairs and passions, it is impossible not to be caught up with the thrill of being young. At the same time, her portrayals of the relationships, and of the economic imperatives that came to replace the old collective Soviet social order, are so tender that a very Russian melancholy, tinged with joy, is developed.

"Don't think me sad because I'm alone in the world," says one of Hobson's most tragic characters. "I've grown strong, because I rely on myself... each of us is an orphan." Evocations like this allow us to understand the widespread feeling of abandonment, and the grief that so many Russians seem to have felt--at the crushing of the old collectivism, and the arrival of an imported, individualistic way of doing things. --Toby Green

Review

‘Artful, original and touching’ -- Anne Chisholm, Sunday Telegraph

‘Black Earth City is moving and superbly entertaining’ -- The Tablet

‘Hobson’s poignant tales of the friendships she developed…are told with something of the muted emotion that suffuses Chekhov’s short stories’ -- The Times

‘Refreshingly and affectionately told’ -- Daily Telegraph

‘This engrossing memoir tells of a Russian people coping and enjoying themselves without respect for authority or hierarchy’ -- The Independent

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By orbit_ing on 1 July 2001
Format: Hardcover
Black Earth City is a poignant 12 months through the eyes of an English student in Russia. It's 1991, Communism is being dismantled and Charlotte couldn't perhaps have chosen a more turbulant time and place to spend a year out from university. More of a series of snapshots rather then the standard linear travelogue narrative, Black Earth City is an an engaging read full of colorful, yet often tragic, characters. As suggested by another reviewer this book is perhaps enjoyed best when curled up with a glass of vodka...
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 1 Aug. 2001
Format: Hardcover
From the turbolence of Russia in 1991 and 1992 Charlotte has extracted the essence of a people who have lost all sense of direction: the old certaintites are quickly vanishing and ordinary Russians are struggling to survive in this new world order. Black Earth City conveys this sense of confusion through its colourful and sometimes melancholy characters - mostly young students with a burning desire to live for the present, while burdened by a nostalgia for the past and fearsome about their future. The joy for life shines through the narrative to produce a great read. Otdykh!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Sofia on 29 Jun. 2007
Format: Paperback
I spent a year living in Voronezh at about the same time as Charlotte Hobson is writing about. Reading her book now brings it all back. I wish I'd had both her idea and talent to write about it!

This is a fantastic book and brings to life provincial Russia and Russians at a pivotal moment in their history. The characters are all too real to me and their portrayal beautifully rendered by Hobson's prose.

This should be read by anyone wanting a glimpse of Russia outside the grand cities of Petersburg and Moscow and especially by all students of Russian contemplating their gap years. Wonderful!
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 4 Jun. 2001
Format: Hardcover
You wouldn't believe that this is Charlotte Hobson's book - the writing is so beautifully composed and the images hauntingly atmospheric. She paints a picture of provincial Russia at the crossroads between the old regime and the new glasnost, a lumbering machine oiled by vodka and tempted by a consumerism still beyond its reach. The city of Voronezh is summed up by the title - Black Earth City - and yet it seems the most exciting place you could imagine for her to have spent a year at that time. The characters she meets up with are lavishly drawn and incredibly sympathetic, their adventures, trials and affairs compellingly described.
It's essential reading with Vodka.
Skol!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By T. R. Cowdret on 12 Mar. 2008
Format: Paperback
Hobson is an extremely friendly and likeable narrator who, in 'Black Earth City', describes her experiences as a student in Voronezh in 1991. This was obviously an important year in Russia's recent history and Hobson's ability to ingratiate herself with the locals allows the reader an insightful view of the 'street level' opinion and experience of Russian beauracracy and politics.
Hobson's experiences are told in a lively and often humorous fashion. This is a great introduction to an interesting period in Russian history and a lively and insightful travelogue.
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Format: Paperback
I was in Voronezh in the late 70s and stayed in the same hostel Charlotte stayed in. Reading this book, the memories came tumbling back. I now realise we lived in squalor with the overflowing rubbish bins and roommates frying things in the rooms where we slept, though I didn't see it at the time.But there was also the excitement of being able to meet Russians of all kinds, and of exploring the world outside the hostel. Charlotte is a gifted writer.Her characters rise off the page.I found her description of her Russian friends descending into alcoholism particularly poignant.She describes the effect on people of the collapse of the Soviet Union. The book ends with some of her Russian friends making plans to leave,while for others it is too scary to contemplate. I would love to know what has happened to them.
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