The overall rating of a review is different from a simple average of all individual ratings.
Share this review on
Russia (A Journey to the Heart of a Land and its People) is a report about a journey through Russia, by a distinguished broadcaster and author Jonathan Dimbleby.
The journey starts in Murmansk, in the Article Circle and ends in Vladivostock, in the Far East Asia, 10,000 miles and eight times zone away. Dimbleby travels by road, plane, boat and train covering the major cities of Russia such as Saint Petersburg, Moscow, Ekaterinburg, as well as less known cities and realities in the country.
During the trip, there are many encounters with Russian people of all class and creed and this is, in my opinion, the backbone of the book. It is by talking with the local people that Dimbleby and the reader can understand about Russia, a country that is still, as Churchill once famously put it, “A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma”.
The book is filled with essential historical facts, from the origin of the Russian state to present “Putin Russia”, via the Tzar’s dynasty and the Communist Revolution.
I give full credit to Dimbleby in exposing the atrocities perpetrated by the Communists during their dictatorship, without skipping quickly over the subject, or blaming only Stalin for that. Dimbleby makes quite clear that the atrocities were perpetrated by an ideology, not just by a crazy man. I was a bit surprised and relieved by this, given the well known Left-winger bias of the BBC, the producer of the book.
Dimbleby is also very critical of Vladimir Putin and it couldn’t be otherwise. Russia is basically a dictatorship with a puppet government, but what infuriates Dimbleby is that to many Russians (young people included) this is not a problem. They like a strong man and they certainly have one in Putin.
The highlights of the long trip in my opinion are the visit to the Dagestan region, not far from Chechnya and Georgia, where war has always been on the menu, and the visit to Siberia. Majority of the books about Russia talk about the European side, but it is in the Asian side that most of the wealth (oil and precious materials) comes from.
Dimbleby is a fan of Tolstoy and of Russian literature as a whole. He often cites extracts from Russian novels to explain how the stories are still relevant today and to understand the Russian way of thinking and living.
The book is enjoyable and I recommend it to anyone who wishes to learn about Russian culture and its people. With 542 pages this book can at times seem a very long one, but there are a variety of topics to keep the reader entertained and Dimbleby’s writing is rather accessible.
I have only two criticisms about the book, one of which is the poor knowledge by Dimbleby of Russian language. From the only British journalist to have had an interview with Gorbachev during the Cold War, I was expecting him to have at least some grasp of the language. I am surprised he didn’t enrol in a crash course of Russian before the trip.
The second aspect is that Dimbleby talks rather too much about his personal life, especially in the first chapters of the book. I have bought the book in order to learn about Russia, not also to learn about the personal life of the journalist! I think his private life should have been left completely out of it, for his benefit as well as the reader.
Pictures of Russia - Jonathan Dimbleby
Russia (A Journey to the Heart of a Land and its People) by Jonathan Dimbleby