Molotov's Magic Lantern by Rachel Polonsky
Travels in Russian History

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When the British journalist Rachel Polonsky moves to Moscow, she discovers an apartment on Romanov Street that was once home to the Soviet elite. One of the most infamous neighbors was the ruthless apparatchik Vyacheslav Molotov, a henchman for Stalin who was a participant in the collectivizations and the Great Purge--and also an ardent bibliophile. In what was formerly Molotov's apartment, Polonsky uncovers an extensive library and an old magic lantern--two things that lead her on an extraordinary journey throughout Russia and ultimately renew her vision of the country and its people.

In Molotov's Magic Lantern, Polonsky visits the haunted cities and vivid landscapes of the books from Molotov's library: works by Chekhov, Dostoevsky, Pushkin, Akhmatova, and others, some of whom were sent to the Gulag by the very man who collected their books. With exceptional insight and beautiful prose, Polonsky writes about the longings and aspirations of these Russian writers and others in the course of her travels from the Arctic to Siberia and from the forests around Moscow to the vast steppes. A singular homage to Russian history and culture, Molotov's Magic Lantern evokes the spirit of the great artists and the haunted past of a country ravaged by war, famine, and totalitarianism.


About Rachel Polonsky

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Rachel Polonsky has written for Prospect, The Guardian, The Times Literary Supplement, and The Spectator, among other publications. She is the author of English Literature and the Russian Aesthetic Renaissance and lives in Cambridge, England, with her family.
Published January 11, 2011 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 412 pages
Genres: History, Travel. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Molotov's Magic Lantern

Kirkus Reviews

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Polonsky was invited by the current resident to poke around the flat, and through his library she was able to illuminate “discrete moments” from Russian history as through a magic lantern: “Russian history and the Russian present have revealed themselves to me in glimpses,” she writes, “through a...

Jan 11 2011 | Read Full Review of Molotov's Magic Lantern: Trav...

Publishers Weekly

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When she moves to Moscow, British journalist Polonsky discovers that the former apartment of Vyacheslav Molotov, Stalin's most loyal henchman, is right above hers.

Nov 22 2010 | Read Full Review of Molotov's Magic Lantern: Trav...

Los Angeles Times

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To say that Rachel Polonsky is a lifelong Russophile probably still understates the level of her engagement with the country that has so captured her imagination, heart and soul.

Feb 20 2011 | Read Full Review of Molotov's Magic Lantern: Trav...

The Independent

But this is not a book about Molotov – his character remains only intermittently revealed - so much as a book about Russia: the "journey in Russian history" of Polonsky's subtitle.

Mar 18 2010 | Read Full Review of Molotov's Magic Lantern: Trav...

The New Yorker

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Jan 17 2011 | Read Full Review of Molotov's Magic Lantern: Trav...

Lonely Planet

Her analysis includes side trips on, to name a few, Georgia, the Caucasus, Taganrog and the Vologda River, all in an attempt to understand the homelands of these writers and to give light to the spirit of the Russian heart and subconscious at the time (complete with Cossacks, ladies of the night ...

May 24 2011 | Read Full Review of Molotov's Magic Lantern: Trav...

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