Thursday, 18 July, 2024

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 fairy tales of its folklore.

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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 fairy-tale villains. (show notes / transcript)

recommended books

City of Thieves

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A Gentleman in Moscow

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Lights All Night Long

buy | read review

The Tsar of Love and Techno

buy | read review

The Bear and the Nightingale

buy | read review

Top image courtesy of Evgeniy Ivanov/Unsplash.

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featured posts

From its landscape and architecture to revolutions and historical figures, everything about Russia seems larger-than-life. In this episode, we discuss five great reads that transported us to Russia, past and present.
What do Pushkin, cholera, duels, Tchaikovsky, dumplings, caviar, and sugar-dusted confections have in common? A butter-yellow building with a storied history on the corner of a busy intersection in St. Petersburg.
Zakuski, cold snacks enjoyed with vodka (or black tea), are a Slavic celebration of this life, this day, this moment with the people you hold dear. Grab your besties, this book, and raise a glass. Za vashe zrodovye!
Russian Teacakes are like butter bombs of happiness. The original recipe in this classic cookbook is the hands-down, best-ever holiday cookie. If you've never tried these fluffy white puffs of joy, now is the time.
This beautifully odd novel is not a holiday story, but it's perfect for this time of year. A mashup of Russian folklore, fantasy, and history, it features a cast of unforgettable characters led by our heroine Marya.
Chill some vodka, rustle up a few sausages, find a comfy seat, and get lost in stories that will transport you to the vast tundra and deep, dark forests of Mother Russia. A little sweet, a little sour, big adventure.

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