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Natasha's Dance: A Cultural History of Russia [Paperback]

Orlando Figes
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (54 customer reviews)
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Book Description

4 Sep 2003

From the award-winning author of The Whisperers, Orlando Figes Natasha's Dance: A Cultural History of Russia is a dazzling history of Russia's mighty culture.

Orlando Figes' enthralling, richly evocative history has been heralded as a literary masterpiece on Russia, the lives of those who have shaped its culture, and the enduring spirit of a people.

'Wonderfully rich ... magnificent and compelling ... a delight to read'
  Antony Beevor

'A tour de force by the great storyteller of modern Russian historians ... Figes mobilizes a cast of serf harems, dynasties, politburos, libertines, filmmakers, novelists, composers, poets, tsars and tyrants ... superb, flamboyant and masterful'
  Simon Sebag-Montefiore, Financial Times

'Awe-inspiring ... Natasha's Dance has all the qualities of an epic tragedy'
  Mail on Sunday

'It is so much fun to read that I hesitate to write too much, for fear of spoiling the pleasures and surprises of the book'
  Sunday Telegraph

'Magnificent ... Figes is at his exciting best'

'Breathtaking ... The title of this masterly history comes from War and Peace, when the aristocratic heroine, Natasha Rostova, finds herself intuitively picking up the rhythm of a peasant dance ... One of those books that, at times, makes you wonder how you have so far managed to do without it'
  Independent on Sunday

'Thrilling, dizzying ... I would defy any reader not to be captivated'
  Literary Review

Orlando Figes is Professor of History at Birkbeck College, University of London. He is the author of Peasant Russia, Civil War, A People's Tragedy, Natasha's Dance, The Whisperers and Just Send Me Word. His books have been translated into over twenty languages.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 768 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; New Ed edition (4 Sep 2003)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 0140297960
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140297966
  • Product Dimensions: 3.4 x 13 x 19.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (54 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 9,572 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.


"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

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
32 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely Fantastic 3 Nov 2004
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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32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A great book, if you don't mind its bias 9 Jan 2006
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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45 of 48 people found the following review helpful
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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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Slavophiles and Westernizers 31 Mar 2005
By Ralph Blumenau TOP 500 REVIEWER
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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31 of 34 people found the following review helpful
By Petrolhead VINE VOICE
Natasha's Dance is in a class of its own. It is the only book that takes in the whole sweep of Russian culture and history, linking literature, theatre, dance, opera and more. Although I studied Russian language, literature and history and I was living in Moscow, there were many things that I just couldn't understand: why were Russians like they were? How did they be so boorish one moment but so cultured and romantic the next? What really happened when the Mongols invaded? Where did those matrioshka dolls come from? Why does Russian music sound different to western European music? What was life like in feudal peasant Russia? or in Siberian exile? How did one country produce peasants, communists, oligarchs, Tolstoy, Tchaikovsky and a whole lot of spies? In Russian literature, why was there so much about wet-nurses, religion, name days, icons, duelling, Decembrists, noble serfs and mystic fools? Who were the Cossacks? Did the entire Russian noble class really speak French to each other? Why didn't the peasants revolt earlier? And why did exiles harbour such a longing for their homeland, even though it was full of communists, corruption and subzero temperatures?

Natasha's Dance tells you all this and far more, much more than I can recall in one go. The name of the book, which is rather offputtingly esoteric, refers to a scene from War and Peace, which indicates what level of reader it is pitched at.

This book is not a light read. There is so much information, you may find you need to stop to take a thinking break after every page just to take it all in. It is so rich that you may be overwhelmed if you haven't got at least a passing knowledge of Russia.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Valuable insights into the way Russians see their place in the world
This book describes itself as a “cultural history of Russia”, although it is really limited to the period between 1682 (the accession of Peter the Great) and 1953 (the death of... Read more
Published 2 months ago by J C E Hitchcock
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterful work.
This masterful work of Orlando Figges should be read by all those who are trying to understand the Russian mentality at this momentous time in European history.
Published 2 months ago by Brian J Nolan
4.0 out of 5 stars Natasha
An Ex tale and with such detail to history i found it fascinating. If you want to increase your knowledge of the period you will find no better.
Published 5 months ago by Reader
5.0 out of 5 stars To Russia, and beyond..!
This book, like all history, and like everything published, should be read with caution, for several reasons, with the theme being, ironically, that propaganda may be mistaken for... Read more
Published 7 months ago by E Reilly
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding piece of work
This book was recommended to me by a Russian friend, who said, simply, that Figes had summed up the Russian soul.

I wasn't disappointed. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Wandering rose
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning
This is the type of book that a few years ago I never thought I would read, let alone love. Figes essentially tells the history of Russia through its art and artists, and it is... Read more
Published 12 months ago by SydneyReader
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and Informative
Bought as a present for someone visiting Russia. Not a reader of books generally but as soon as opened apparently read before leaving the UK. Read more
Published 12 months ago by D. Richards
1.0 out of 5 stars Absolute rubbish
I never saw more idiotic book on Russia. It not simply propagates myths and stereotypes about Russia, it introduces new ones! Read more
Published 13 months ago by AnB
4.0 out of 5 stars Good
Great book for russian students that don't want to be bored to death by bland textbooks. Colourfully written, accurate and very well researched. Read more
Published 14 months ago by john
3.0 out of 5 stars a very interesting manual
It's not an incredibly well-written (in fact there are some slips and repetitions here and there) and it's not particularly original. Read more
Published 17 months ago by anna aglietti
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