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A wonderfully original book about contemporary Russia as seen on journeys in search of Pushkin, Tolstoy, Lermontov, Chekhov, Gogol and Turgenev.

There is a literal Russian landscape, and there is its emotional, literary counterpart. In Mud and Stars, award-winning writer Sara Wheeler sets out to explore both.

With the writers of the Golden Age as her guides – Pushkin, Tolstoy, Gogol and Turgenev, among others – Wheeler travels across eight time zones, from rinsed north-western beetroot fields and far-eastern Arctic tundra to the cauldron of ethnic soup that is the Caucasus. She follows nineteenth-century footsteps to make connections between then and now: between the places where flashing-epauletted Lermontov died in the aromatic air of Pyatigorsk, and sheaves of corn still stand like soldiers on a blazing afternoon, just like in Gogol’s stories. On the Trans-Siberian railway in winter she crunches across snowy platforms to buy dried fish from babushki, and in summer she sails the Black Sea where dolphins leapt in front of violet Abkhazian peaks. She also spends months in fourth-floor 1950s apartments, watching television with her hosts, her new friends bent over devices and moaning about Ukraine.

At a time of deteriorating relations between Russia and the West, Wheeler searches for a Russia not in the news – a Russia of humanity and daily struggles. She gives voice to the ‘ordinary’ people of Russia, and discovers how the writers of the Golden Age continue to represent their country today.

Reviews

[A] literary romp in the footsteps of [Russia’s “big beast” 19th-century] writers — which does not skimp on detail or seriousness… I approached this book thinking that it would be — along with Elif Batuman’s The Possessedand Viv Groskop’s The Anna Karenina Fix — the third in a recent hattrick of women’s journeys through Russian literature. Wheeler goes beyond these books by travelling to the backwaters of Russia so that we don’t have to — we can continue to travel in the comfort of our armchair through the pages of the masterpieces that the great writers left behind.

Malika Browne, The Times

The image many westerners have of Russia is an unflattering one, heavy on totalitarianism and repression. Sara Wheeler offers an important corrective. Part literary criticism, part travelogue, her fascinating book… is as enthusiastic and authoritative a guide as one could wish for.

Alexander Larman, Guardian

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Formats & editions

  • Trade Paperback

    9780224098021

    July 4, 2019

    Jonathan Cape

    304 pages

    RRP $35.00

    Online retailers

    • Amazon
    • Angus & Robertson Bookworld
    • Booktopia
    • Dymocks
    • Abbey's Bookshop
    • Boomerang Books
    • Collins Booksellers
    • Books Kinokuniya
    • QBD
    • Readings
    • Robinsons Bookshop
    • The Nile
    Or

    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.org.au

  • Hardback

    9780224098014

    July 4, 2019

    Jonathan Cape

    304 pages

    RRP $45.00

    Online retailers

    • Amazon
    • Angus & Robertson Bookworld
    • Booktopia
    • Dymocks
    • Abbey's Bookshop
    • Boomerang Books
    • Collins Booksellers
    • Books Kinokuniya
    • QBD
    • Readings
    • Robinsons Bookshop
    • The Nile
    Or

    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.org.au

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