Black Earth City: A Year in the Heart of Russia Paperback – 17 May 2002
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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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
'A moving, compassionate and true-to-life portrait of post-communist Russia and its people. One of the best books Ive read in recent years -- Vitali Vitaliev
'Profoundly moving ... Hobson's prose is unselfconsciously precise and poetic, her images of Voronezh and its characters poignant and unforgettable' -- Elena Lappin, Sunday Times
Hobsons poignant tales of the friendships she developed are told with something of the muted emotion that suffuses Chekhovs short stories -- The Times
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Top Customer Reviews
It's essential reading with Vodka.
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!
The author arrived shortly after the coup that began the fall of Communism, and spent her year amongst locals, learning the language and culture as part of the student community. So the account is a mixture of her personal life, the people she got to know, anecdotes from others, and comments on politics.
The writing is good, the pace works well. I got quite a good idea of what life was like in this era. However, the book didn’t ever feel like a coherent whole. It begins very well with the story of how Charlotte came to be studying Russian, and why she decided to go to the small, poverty-stricken town of Voronezh. But it doesn’t mention what she expected, or much about her feelings at all.
The characters all merged together in my mind and I found it impossible to remember who was whom. Maybe it was deliberate that they all melded into one, but it didn’t make for gripping reading, even though some of the stories told were fascinating.
I also found the endless vodka-drinking and joint-rolling to be tedious in the extreme. It seemed to occupy far too much of the narrative, when I’m sure there must have been many interesting things left out.
Recommended in a low-key way to anyone who would like to know what Russia was like from an outsider’s point of view in 1991.
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I thought this book was a riveting read. Getting to know the protagonist through her journey in what at first looked like the backwaters of Russia was eye opening and I only wish I... Read morePublished on 3 Oct. 2013 by Dean Robinson
A Wonderful evocation of a time of change in Russia. Sensitive and youthful Charlotte Hobson has written a book with rare qualities.Published on 1 July 2013 by P Milling
I got very bored. Once one understood that conditions in a minor Russian University were dire, the rest was just a story of vodka, drugs and sex.Published on 5 Jan. 2013 by Mrs GMM Miscampbell
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. Read morePublished on 24 July 2010 by Mrs. Sarah Philps
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