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Russia is the largest country in the world. And its culture is dominated by larger-than-life historical figures, giants of literature, and sweeping landscapes. Both intentionally and inadvertently, Russia has had a massive impact on the rest of the world.
For centuries, the capital city of Moscow and the former capital of St. Petersburg (a.k.a., Leningrad) have been fodder for stories of entitled tsars, idealistic revolutionaries, murderous dictators, Cold War spies, and modern political machinations.
Russia spans 11 time zones. Beyond the urban centers, its landscape is dominated by Siberia, a vast swath that covers three-quarters of the country. Made up of snow-capped mountains, tundra, and deep forests, it’s an area that’s infamous for both its bitter weather and its reputation as a place of punishment and exile.
But this Slavic nation is also known for the warmth and grit of its people, its comfort food (pickles and vodka and caviar and sausages and potatoes and borscht and buttery Chicken Kiev), and the darkly moralistic fairytales of its folklore.
In this episode, we talk about the enduring fascination and challenges of Russian history and culture. Then we we discuss books that gave us a peek inside Russian: a threaded short story collection that spans history, two tales of WWII (during the Siege of Leningrad and in a posh hotel in Moscow), a contemporary coming-of-age story, and a retelling of the legend of Koschei the Deathless, Russia’s answer to Western fairytale villains.
Top image courtesy of Evgeniy Ivanov/Unsplash.
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