Top positive review
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The Last Man in Russia
on 10 June 2014
In 2010, Oliver Bullough released a book called Let Our Fame be Great: Journeys Among the Defiant People of the Caucasus. I read it when it first came out, and was astounded by what I read. I have just ordered another copy, because my first copy seems to have disappeared without trace. It was a book which has haunted me since I read it, and which opened my eyes to a world I had no idea existed, and to actions I had no idea had occurred. I will read it again when I get my new copy, and will review it then.
This book (published in 2013) is another odyssey by the author, a journey through Russia in search of answers to a question that bothered the author: what is it about Russia that is failing? The author has numerous friends and colleagues who are Russian; he finds it a concern that so many Russians seem to take alcohol and overindulgence in alcohol as a daily occurrence; why is the Russian population decreasing, with birthrates falling and Russians (particularly men) dying younger? In 1950 births in Russia outnumbered deaths by 1.7 million; in 2010, deaths outnumbered births by 240,000. In the early 1960s an average Russian and an average Austrian both lived for about sixty-nine years. By 2005, the Austrian was living for another fifteen years, the Russian for four years fewer.
In a search for reasons and answers from within Russia's own literature, the author found a man, Father Dmitry Dudko who seemed to encapsulate life in Russia from just after the revolution to the post-Soviet era. Born just after the revolution, and dying in Moscow in 2004, Father Dmitry lived through collectivization, served as a soldier in World War Two, spent eight years in the gulag, and strove throughout the 1960s and 1970s to help young Russians create a better society. He wrote copiously - memoirs, notebooks, articles, sermons, autobiographical sketches, poems, sermons.
This book then is an attempt to take the life of Father Dmitry and use it as a microcosmic example of the state of Russia and its people. Is the life and death of Father Dmitry mirrored in the life and death of his nation? Can a new generation born after communism kindle a new kind of state? The author sets off to retrace the life of Father Dmitry, and it is that journey (literal and figurative) that we read now.
The author, as a journalist, writes in an extremely accessible style. You feel like you are on the journey with him, as he travels about, describing the people that he meets and the places that he goes. The information is slipped in quietly along the way, so that you find yourself absorbing data and information in an extremely easy way, enjoying the narrative journey with the author. It's a crying shame there are no photos in the book (at least not in the edition I read), although the author frequently mentions taking photos of the people he talks with. I would have liked to have seen photos of the people and places visited. This is another great book by Oliver Bullough; one that I'm very glad that I have had the chance to read, and one which taught me much more than I ever knew before about Russia, its twentieth century history and its possible future. Thoroughly recommended for anyone wanting to get a little more insight to Russia and its people, and to find out about one remarkable man in particular.