Natasha's Dance by Orlando Figes
A Cultural History of Russia

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History on a grand scale-an enchanting masterpiece that explores the making of one of the world's most vibrant civilizations

A People's Tragedy, wrote Eric Hobsbawm, did "more to help us understand the Russian Revolution than any other book I know." Now, in Natasha's Dance, internationally renowned historian Orlando Figes does the same for Russian culture, summoning the myriad elements that formed a nation and held it together.

Beginning in the eighteenth century with the building of St. Petersburg-a "window on the West"-and culminating with the challenges posed to Russian identity by the Soviet regime, Figes examines how writers, artists, and musicians grappled with the idea of Russia itself-its character, spiritual essence, and destiny. He skillfully interweaves the great works-by Dostoevsky, Stravinsky, and Chagall-with folk embroidery, peasant songs, religious icons, and all the customs of daily life, from food and drink to bathing habits to beliefs about the spirit world. Figes's characters range high and low: the revered Tolstoy, who left his deathbed to search for the Kingdom of God, as well as the serf girl Praskovya, who became Russian opera's first superstar and shocked society by becoming her owner's wife.

Like the European-schooled countess Natasha performing an impromptu folk dance in Tolstoy's War and Peace, the spirit of "Russianness" is revealed by Figes as rich and uplifting, complex and contradictory-a powerful force that unified a vast country and proved more lasting than any Russian ruler or state.

About Orlando Figes

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Orlando Figes is the author of The Crimean War, The Whisperers, Natasha's Dance, and A People's Tragedy, which have been translated into more than twenty languages. The recipient of the Wolfson History Prize and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, among others, Figes is a professor of history at Birkbeck College, University of London.
Published October 21, 2002 by Metropolitan Books. 544 pages
Genres: History, Travel, Arts & Photography. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Natasha's Dance

Kirkus Reviews

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there is no single authentic Russian culture, Figes insists, any more than there is a single American one, “no quintessential national culture, only mythic images of it.” Natasha’s dance, for instance, takes in Mongol, Persian, Kazakh, ethnic Russian, and other cultures, just as Petersburg was bu...

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The Guardian

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The exponents of Russian high culture - literature, music and painting - wanted to offer something distinctive to the world and needed to put a "national" dye in their cloth.

Sep 21 2002 | Read Full Review of Natasha's Dance: A Cultural H...

The Guardian

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Natasha's Dance: A Cultural History of Russia by Orlando Figes Allen Lane Penguin Press £25, pp679 In 1698, diarist John Evelyn lent his family home at Deptford, conveniently situated with river access to London, to the crown, to provide accommodation for Peter the Great.

Oct 13 2002 | Read Full Review of Natasha's Dance: A Cultural H...

Publishers Weekly

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Figes also shows how the fine arts have been influenced by the Orthodox liturgy, peasant songs and crafts, and myriad social and economic factors—from Russian noblemen's unusual attachments to their peasant nannies to the 19th-century growth of vodka production.

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London Review of Books

The palaces built by the aristocracy – usually the work of European architects and containing grand reception halls and galleries filled with paintings, bought by the yard, from European artists – were ‘an oasis of European culture in the desert of the Russian peasant soil’.

May 24 2012 | Read Full Review of Natasha's Dance: A Cultural H...

The Captive Reader

Natasha took no trouble either about her manners, or about the delicacy of her speech, or about showing herself to her husband in the most advantageous poses, or about her toilette, or about not hampering her husband with her demands.

Apr 09 2012 | Read Full Review of Natasha's Dance: A Cultural H...

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