Sunday, August 14, 2011

Lost and Found in Russia-Lives in a Post-Soviet Landscape; Susan Richards, Other Press, 2009

The fall of the Berlin Wall and the break down of the Soviet Union were noted and celebrated in my family. My father worked for the U.S. Army in Germany. Young Disaster Amnesiac was watching commercials that celebrated the A-10 Thunderbolt II while his contemporaries stateside were watching MTV as it aired live. This must be stated, as formative media such as the Armed Forces Network and the Stars and Stripes newspaper had huge effects on me. The Soviet Union loomed as a large existential threat to me quite early on. I'm not gloating here, just being honest about where certain philosophical outlooks were shaped within my younger consciousness. Disaster Amnesiac is fascinated with the history of the Soviet Union, along with the historiography that has ensued in the wake of its collapse.
Regardless of where one stands in the debate of Right v. Left/Capitalism v. Communism/Wealth acquisition v. Wealth redistribution, it is undeniable that the Soviet Union, at least in its 20th Century phase, failed.  Lost and Found sets out to deal with the fallout of that world-historical event. Richards uses the story of her relationships with seven Russian citizens over the span of several years (1992-2008) as the lens through which to view the post-Soviet evolution of the region. Her use of the travel writing method takes the reader along as she journeys with her various friends throughout Russia and its myriad regions. Often these friends are using their recently acquired human rights to "vote with their feet" as they search for meaning, or profits, or that elusive "freedom" that beckoned to them across the great divides of the Cold War era. It is within the descriptions of the towns that they visit and the people that they interact with therein that Richards paints the picture of a Russia struggling to come to terms with her identity and possible futures. Much attention is paid to the pre-Soviet era and the encompassing influence of Orthodox Christianity. If one comes away with anything from Lost and Found, it is that Orthodoxy looms large within the national psyche of the Russian people, that its influence is as prevalent as that of Stalin-ism.
Chapters describing time spent traveling among an occult-oriented physicist, an intentional New Age community, ancient religious communes, and a traditional shamanistic healer ("witch") are juxtaposed alongside scenes of the crumbling, struggling cities of Marx and Saratov as their citizens adjust to the rampant succession of changes that effected Russia during the book's time frame.  The former are contextualized within the rubric of the older, Orthodox Russia, while the latter are defined more by the parameters of the great struggle of the 20th Century, the cold (economic) and hot (physical) wars fought between the competing ideologies of Communism and Capitalism. The descriptions of her friends' developments within these battles are great. The reader will find his/her self compelled by the stories of these peoples' lives as they unfold, the spanning their youth and developments into maturity. Some thrive, some flounder. Richards writes with insight about all of these developments, bringing a human tenderness to her descriptions of their stories (they, are, after all, friends).
Books like these are very important to Disaster Amnesiac. For one, they bridge the mental divides that were instilled within me as a child. Secondly, they tell stories and show scenes that are in real danger of being wiped away. It would be naive to think that the totalitarian impulse that found perfection within the  Stalin-ist Soviet Union has been abrogated. There are currently powerful forces within Russia that would gladly "disappear" many of the insider views shown within Lost and Found. If for no other reason, I recommend this book to spite Richards' conclusion that gives advantage to the ultimate return of that impulse, in Russia, and elsewhere (italics mine).

1 comment:

Disaster Amnesiac said...

Story found online today: