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Black Earth City: A Year in the Heart of Russia Paperback – 17 May 2002

4.2 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Granta Books; New edition edition (17 May 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1862074984
  • ISBN-13: 978-1862074989
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.6 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 101,758 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Amazon Review

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.

Review

'A moving, compassionate and true-to-life portrait of post-communist Russia and its people. One of the best books I’ve 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

‘Hobson’s poignant tales of the friendships she developed are told with something of the muted emotion that suffuses Chekhov’s short stories’ -- The Times

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Black Earth City is a poignant 12 months through the eyes of an English student in Russia. It's 1991, Communism is being dismantled and Charlotte couldn't perhaps have chosen a more turbulant time and place to spend a year out from university. More of a series of snapshots rather then the standard linear travelogue narrative, Black Earth City is an an engaging read full of colorful, yet often tragic, characters. As suggested by another reviewer this book is perhaps enjoyed best when curled up with a glass of vodka...
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Format: Hardcover
From the turbolence of Russia in 1991 and 1992 Charlotte has extracted the essence of a people who have lost all sense of direction: the old certaintites are quickly vanishing and ordinary Russians are struggling to survive in this new world order. Black Earth City conveys this sense of confusion through its colourful and sometimes melancholy characters - mostly young students with a burning desire to live for the present, while burdened by a nostalgia for the past and fearsome about their future. The joy for life shines through the narrative to produce a great read. Otdykh!
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Format: Hardcover
You wouldn't believe that this is Charlotte Hobson's book - the writing is so beautifully composed and the images hauntingly atmospheric. She paints a picture of provincial Russia at the crossroads between the old regime and the new glasnost, a lumbering machine oiled by vodka and tempted by a consumerism still beyond its reach. The city of Voronezh is summed up by the title - Black Earth City - and yet it seems the most exciting place you could imagine for her to have spent a year at that time. The characters she meets up with are lavishly drawn and incredibly sympathetic, their adventures, trials and affairs compellingly described.
It's essential reading with Vodka.
Skol!
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Format: Paperback
I spent a year living in Voronezh at about the same time as Charlotte Hobson is writing about. Reading her book now brings it all back. I wish I'd had both her idea and talent to write about it!

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!
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Format: Hardcover
This is a biographical account of the author’s student year in Russia, in the early 1990s. Names have been altered, and the details of some incidents also changed. But the bulk of the account is factual.

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.
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Format: Paperback
Hobson is an extremely friendly and likeable narrator who, in 'Black Earth City', describes her experiences as a student in Voronezh in 1991. This was obviously an important year in Russia's recent history and Hobson's ability to ingratiate herself with the locals allows the reader an insightful view of the 'street level' opinion and experience of Russian beauracracy and politics.
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.
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