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This review is from: Natasha's Dance: A Cultural History of Russia (Paperback)
When reading about Natasha's dance I must think of a TV-programme I saw some years ago. The great German soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf was interviewed during one of her master classes teaching German Lieder to foreign singers. She told the journalist that though many of the foreign singers were doing very well, they would never be able to sing the Lieder like a German because for the German the Lieder were part of hers or his internalized culture.
This is what Natasha's dance is about: It is the story of Countess Natasha Rostov in Tolstoy's War and Peace. When she is stirred by a folk song she ha never heard before, she instinctively takes up the rhythm of the dance that accompany it - in spite of the fact that she by social class and education was far removed from the village culture it represented. She did so because it was - analogues to the Lieder example above - part of her internalized native sensibility or national consciousness.
At the heart of Natasha's dance is the encounter between two entirely different worlds, says Figes: The European culture of the upper classes and the Russian culture of the peasantry - an enduring theme in Russian history that is unfolded in the book. The book tells us about the complex interaction between these two cultures and the influence this interaction has had on the national consciousness and the arts.
For those of us who admire the Russian composers and authors, Figes' book gives us invaluable information about the context in which they lived and work. We learn that there are many strands of Russian cultural identity: The European Russia of St. Petersburg; the Russian Russia of Moscow; the peasant culture and the inheritance from Genghiz Khan.
Churchill once said that Russia was a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. As for myself I felt enlightened after having read Figes' book. I like his touch as a historian. He writes with an unsentimental sensibility and has a profound knowledge of his subject. An awe-inspiring book!