Review: Caught in the Revolution

Put your hand up if you love Russian history!


Just me?

I will confess that most of my Russian history lessons have been confined to Tsars, their wives and children. I’ve been enamoured of the scandals, marriages, plots and descriptions of jewels for years.

But all of that leads, of course, to the Russian Revolution.

Helen Rappaport, author of the brilliant Romanov Sisters, has come to the same conclusion. Her new book, Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd, Russia, 1917 – A World on the Edge, looks at what the Revolution meant for those expats living in Petrograd at the time.

In Caught in the Revolution, Rappaport relies on letters and diaries from eyewitnesses – those diplomats, journalists, nurses, engineers and workers who were there when all hell broke loose. In the Romanov Sisters, Rappaport managed to shed light on the sheltered lives of the grand duchesses who were mostly a mystery and she manages to illuminate the chaos of the Russian Revolution in the same way.

But this book is chaotic. This is the kind of dense non-fiction (a lot happens in a short amount of time) that will turn off all but the most dedicated readers. It is also kind of all over the place, owing in part to what was actually happening in Petrograd: bread lines turning into protests, the abdication of the Tsar, the provisional government taking over, riots in the streets, Bolsheviks fighting the ‘Whites’, blood running in the streets, journalists hiding out in hotel rooms for days without food, stranded by the violence outside.

But for all that, Rappaport still manages to dig out some gems including the observations of one Phil Jordan, an African American valet and chauffeur that accompanied the American ambassador. His letters, the only known published account of the revolution by an African American, provide readers with a sense of exactly what it was like to endure the Revolution.

Caught in the Revolution is not a book that I’d recommend across the board. It’s the kind of book that will appeal to a certain kind of reader. But if you’re interested in the time and are up for the challenge, I’d recommend this without hesitation.

9 thoughts on “Review: Caught in the Revolution

      • I would love to visit Russia one day. Doctor Zhivago was the first book that caught my attention (and the old movie with all that snow and ice). You’ve made me want to learn more about it’s history rather than just the vague idea I have now!

      • Oh me too! SO much history I would LOVE to see up close.
        You should definitely give some Russian history a try, especially since you have such a connection to Russian Lit! It will totally illuminate things for you.

      • Definitely! I will be making a special trip to the library when I get back to uni in a couple of weeks.

  1. The fact that this depends so much on letters fascinates me. Even in fiction, I love the idea of letters offering a direct path to experience (or, as direct as it can be for us, way over here). Enjoyed your thoughts on this one, and look at you, still reading the NF!

      • I know. It amazes me! I’ve actually fallen below my 10% so far ths year (which I thought was pretty sad from last year to begin with). I don’t want to actually do the math, cuz it’s some tiny little single shameful digit (and I was only aiming for 15% too). Maybe I’ll smarten up soon…..or just take your reading list to the library or something!

      • To be fair, Caught in the Revolution was read in November but only just written about now. But I just finished a memoir, In the Black, and will probably read Books for Living after my current read.
        Nothing shameful about any reading stats. Just awareness – read what makes you happy!

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