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Natasha's Dance: A Cultural History of Russia Paperback – 4 Sep 2003


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Product details

  • Paperback: 768 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; New Ed edition (4 Sept. 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140297960
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140297966
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 3.3 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (62 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 36,907 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

More About the Author

Orlando Figes is Professor of History at Birkbeck College, University of London. His books include The Whisperers, A People's Tragedy and Natasha's Dance. He lives in Cambridge.

Product Description

Amazon Review

As epic and ambitious as his first book A People's Tragedy, Orlando Figes's Natasha's Dance is a sweeping panorama of Russian culture over the centuries. It takes its title from a scene in War and Peace in which the upper-crust Natasha Rostov, visiting her countrified "Uncle", falls instinctively into the rhythms of a peasant dance. Figes finds in this scene an ideal metaphor for his book's central theme--the perpetual see-sawing between the European cultural ideals of the aristocracy in St Petersburg and an "authentic" Russianess, usually seen as embodied in the peasantry and the country. The great debate in Russian culture has been between those who have seen it as a naturally "Western" society and those who have seen its destiny as lying in the East and its vast hinterland.

Around this supporting central theme, Figes has constructed an imposing edifice. The range of his knowledge and the sureness with which he deploys it are very impressive. Whether writing about the music of Stravinsky and Shostakovich or the novels of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, the buildings of St Petersburg or the poetry of Akhmatova, he has something new and original to say. The great cultural achievements of Russia often seem, for those who have only a little knowledge of Russian history, like giant mountains suddenly rising out of featureless terrain. Figes's excellent book gives them a context and fills out many of the details of the surrounding landscape.--Nick Rennison --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"In this excellent book Orlando Figes gives us…the sight, sound and flavour of several ‘Russias’, glimpsed from various angles…" -- Literary Review, October 1, 2002 (by Lindsey Hughes)

"One of those books that, at times, makes you wonder how you have so far managed to do without it." -- Independent on Sunday, October 6, 2002 (by Robin Buss)

"This wide-ranging history of Russia is one of the publishing events of the year." -- Sunday Times Culture, September 15, 2002

"Written beautifully with striking wit…this superb, flamboyant and masterful tour d’horizon is fun, anecdotal and fascinating, colourful and playful." -- Financial Times, September 22, 2002 (by Simon Sebag Montefiore)

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Tamarindos on 3 Nov. 2004
Format: Paperback
This really is one of the best books I have ever read. It has an enormous, if not terrifying scope, but Orlando Figes pulls everything together in a totally coherent and interesting way. I am not surprised it took him years to write! For many years I have had an interest in Russian culture, mainly the literature, and I have also read histories of Russia, but by taking culture as the central theme, the book provides an incredibly vivid picture of the history in general. I particularly enjoyed the chapter about the "east". It is superbly written, easy to follow, which is a rarity these days amongst general academic books. The final chapter, which deals with people alive in my lifetime I found particularly poignant and I was desperately sad when I had finished the book, although I now have a very long list of cds to buy! Thank you Orlando Figes for an amazing work of scholarship, which is also a joy to read!
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34 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Petr Mores on 9 Jan. 2006
Format: Paperback
If you are interested in Russian history and culture, this book is definitely worth reading. If you, like me, read every volume of classical Russian literature you can get your hands on, it will explain a lot of background facts and help you connect the dots. The book is written in a bold manner that might be viewed as controversial for the lack of focus (each chapter consists of several stories that are interwoven into each other), but it generally works very well for painting the big picture, and it is fun to read.
One thing that might be viewed as a certain deficiency is the author's bias. He shows occassional tendency to put down widely recognized authors and diminish their credit (Tolstoy, Bunin, Dostoyevsky, Rimsky-Korsakov) and on the other hand, he seems to spend way too much time on two women poets, Akhmatova and Cvetaeva, because he likes them, and their life stories suit his story-telling purposes.
This is all great - if you already know something about the subject, it's very interesting to confront your (or generally accepted) views and experience with a different point of view, that is nonetheless very intelligent and stimulating. But if you are a newcomer, it might give you a slightly distorted view of things. So if you bear in mind that this book is more of a personal confession of passion for and vast knowledge of Russian culture rather than an "academic" overview, you will not be disappointed. Also, the book is a great reference, so it's really worth buying to have it handy.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Ralph Blumenau TOP 500 REVIEWER on 31 Mar. 2005
Format: Paperback
A superb account of the cultural history of Russia since the end of the 18th century, bringing most vividly alive the tension between slavophiles and westernizers. The last chapter, on the Russian émigrés during the Stalinist period, is the finest of the lot, and his account of how some of them returned to Russia from Khrushchev's time onwards is very moving. I learnt something new on almost every page of this 586 pages long book.
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47 of 50 people found the following review helpful By And You May Find Yourself on 16 Dec. 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is an excellent book. Though it is arranged thematically rather than chronologically, timelines are not confusing. The great debates of Russian culture - between East and West, between peasant and aristocrat, between Orthodoxy and the Old Belief - are presented vividly and clearly. The countryside and cities come alive with characters, not just of the great figures of Russian literature and art but of the nameless millions and their beliefs, culture, attitudes and preoccupations. Natasha's Dance made me want to learn much more about Russia, its people, its history, its literature and art. And that, to me, is the measure of success of a cultural history such as this.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Antenna TOP 500 REVIEWER on 21 Feb. 2011
Format: Paperback
"Natasha's Dance" weaves a dense canvas of information round the average reader's ragbag of knowledge about Russia.

Figes begins with Peter the Great's attempt to drag Russia into the mainstream of European culture with the imposition of the classical style city of St. Petersburg on the marshlands of the River Neva. He contrasts this with Moscow and "Old Russia" based on the Eastern Orthodox Church, onion domes and icons, and the close ties with the land, and the sometimes romanticised simple life of the serfs. He traces the early attempts of some aristocrats, radicalised by fighting alongside their serfs against Napoleon, to introduce the democracy which Russia has never really been able to achieve. Then there is the strong influence of Asia, brought partly by the Tartars sweeping in across the vast steppes.

The chapter I enjoyed most was "Russia through the Soviet lens" in which the authorities rejected "art for art's sake" and tried to use it as a tool to transform workers into efficient and compliant machines. The sense of loss of those who were forced into exile is moving, as is Stalin's crazy persecution of those who remained.

Although I am very interested in the subject matter, I found this book hard going. It is quite longwinded and repetitious, as if the author himself sometimes loses sight of the wood for the trees in the vast amount of information he has gathered. There are too many overlong extracts from novels and romantic poems which now seem quite dated. However, I liked the inclusion of Akhmatova's poetry, perhaps because it conveys so vividly what it was like to live under the Soviet regime.
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