Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Book Review: "Midnight in Siberia: A Train Journey into the Heart of Russia" by David Greene

Try not to be shocked, I found another book about Russia to review. My weird obsession continues.
Our author is David Greene. Apparently he works for NPR? Hosting something called Morning Edition? What I'm trying to say is I wasn't familiar with his work previous to this book. Greene had done some work in Russia periodically, but then came back with his wife Rose to work for NPR there permanently (bureau chief or head correspondent or something). He and his trusted translator Sergei decide to journey across Siberia on the famed Trans-Siberian railroad.

Here's a couple of things that I thought were interesting:

-Russia is a huge country, that spans several time zones. However, all the train schedules are shown on Moscow time. So you could literally be closer to Paris than Moscow and you still have a  train schedule in Moscow time. Is this confusing? Oh yes.

- Did you know gulag is really an acronym? (I thought it was just Russian for prison or camp or freaking worst nightmare or some such thing). It loosely translates into English as "main department of labor camps". Apparently "Western historians have used the term more broadly than Russians have." So it's not always a place for political dissidents, it could just be more of a regular prison with regular criminals.

- Life expectancy rates are really low for men in Russia compared to other similarly developed countries. It's only 60 years! Some contributing factors? "60% of men smoke...each citizen on average, consumes 4 gallons of pure alcohol a year". This will put you in an early grave. It just will.

-Up until 2013 beer was considered a food, not alcohol in Russia. (I thought that THAT was deserving of it's own bullet point!)

One of the things that I thought was most interesting was the attitudes for the government. People seemed to crave stability. In times of dictatorship or communist rule, things were definitely scary; but people had government issued homes and jobs and that offered stability. When Russia dips it's toes into democracy, there's less stability, more people fall through the cracks and face hardships that they hadn't before. (This is a problem more with the rural poor than the urban elite. That is a big old gap.)

I really enjoyed this book. I felt like it was a really good look at the two real separate groups in Russia (the above mentioned rural poor and urban elite) and what makes Russians Russian and what makes them tick! 3.5 out of 5 stars!


  1. Those are fantastic fun facts! Thanks for sharing :) I might need to do some reading about Russia too.

    1. Glad you enjoyed them! I can't resist books about Russia, I don't know why! There's a book called "The Forsaken: An American Tragedy in Stalinist Russia" and it's about a huge group of American families who moved to Russia to work in factories to escape America's Great Depression. It was all fine but then Stalin came to power and was immediately suspicious of all of these Americans and almost all of them were arrested and never seen again. So if you're in the mood for another interesting Russian nonfiction read I'd rec that one!


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