Put your hand up if you love Russian history!
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.