Two Russian non-fiction DNFs

>> Tuesday, August 16, 2016

TITLE: The Romanovs: 1613 - 1918
AUTHOR: Simon Sebag Montefiore

I started this with genuine excitement. It's the story of the Romanov tsars, from the birth of the dynasty in 1613, until Nicholas II's execution in 1918. The introduction promised some truly wild stories and larger-than-life personalities. I was fully on-board. I happily opened the first chapter...

...and encountered some of the flatest and deadest prose ever. The first chapter is basically a recitation of facts. This happened, and then this happened, and then this happened. And I'm not paraphrasing that much! We get no sense of the people involved. Even worse, the recitation of facts is so bare-bones that there's not enough there for the reader to understand how one thing led to another or why things happened. It's all "And then the next year Poland invaded". Why? No idea.

The positive reviews talk about how the characters come alive, so I wondered if things would get better in later sections, when there is more source material available. So I continued to try to plow through the first sections. I didn't succeed. I'd read 2 or 3 pages, get bored to tears, and stop. And when I put the book down I felt no interest in picking it up again. I had to force myself to do so. This went on for over a month before I gave up.


TITLE: Travels in Siberia
AUTHOR: Ian Frazier

Clearly I'm on a Russia kick, because I soon as I gave up on The Romanovs, I picked this one up. Travels in Siberia is also non-fiction, a mix of history, social commentary and travelogue. Frazier first visited Siberia when invited to join exiled Russian friends several decades earlier, and that made him obsessed with the place.

Unfortunately, although there are interesting snippets in the approximately 100 pages that I read, the writing style is really dull, particularly on the travel sections. There's a lot of "I did this, and then I did that", in way too much detail about the mundane and not enough on what we readers are interested in.



Darlynne 16 August 2016 at 19:00  

The book about Siberia should have, on its face, been fascinating and Frazier is certainly a good writer. Sorry about all the DNFs.

Rosario 21 August 2016 at 08:19  

I know! I've no idea what happened. I still need to find a good non-fiction book about Russia. I'll keep trying.

Bona Caballero 26 August 2016 at 10:50  

I have seen good reviews of RUSSKA, by Edward Rutherfurd, 1800 years of history in a novel. I'm sorry but I haven't heard of good non fiction books about Russia. In they have published a post about Russia and Turkey, "Viajando por Europa de libro en libro: Rusia y Turquía". It might be helpful.

Rosario 26 August 2016 at 10:59  

Thanks, Bona. My mum has recommended Rutherford's London, so he sounds like a good bet!

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