Romanov Riches by Solomon Volkov
Russian Writers and Artists Under the Tsars

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Synopsis

In a sweeping cultural history of Russia from the rise of the house of Romanov in 1613 to its downfall at the hands of the Bolsheviks in 1917, Solomon Volkov effortlessly unwinds the twisted relationship between art and the royal family.

Throughout the Romanov dynasty, Russia’s greatest artists and thinkers, painters and poets, composers and dancers, served two masters. Devotion to craft—or principle—could never wholly eclipse dependence on the tsars. Similarly, consumers of Russian culture could never respond without political consideration: Volkov recounts how, at the 1836 premiere of Glinka’s opera A Life for the Tsar, fashionable audiences watched Nicholas I in his private box to see how they ought to react. He wept, and they wept accordingly.

In this spellbinding story, we watch the great figures of Russian history clash. Alexei, father of Peter the Great, befriended the writer Avvakum only to banish him; the next tsar, Fedor, had Avvakum burned alive. Using her notorious charms, Catherine the Great masterfully wielded political control over her culture industry. For his part, Pushkin became the first favored artist to resist the tsar’s influence. His poem “To Liberty” is cherished as a revolutionary work of dissent. But even Pushkin’s genius went unspared: Alexander tired of the poet’s literary and amorous freethinking and banished him from St. Petersburg.

Romanov Riches is a work of epic scale that never sacrifices individual characters for broader themes. Gogol, Dostoevsky, and Tolstoy are presented in a devilishly intricate dance with their royal patrons. A truly essential work for anyone who wants to understand Russia’s passionate devotion to its most important artists, it is the prequel to Volkov’s acclaimed work The Magical Chorus: A History of Russian Culture from Tolstoy to Solzhenitsyn.


From the Hardcover edition.
 

About Solomon Volkov

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Solomon Volkov is the award-winning author of several notable books about Russian culture, including St. Petersburg: A Cultural History and Shostakovich and Stalin, published worldwide. After moving to the US from the Soviet Union, he became a cultural commentator at the Voice of America and then Radio Liberty broadcasting to the USSR (and later, Russia), discussing contemporary artistic developments in his former homeland. He lives in New York City with his wife, Marianna, a pianist and photographer.
 
Published February 22, 2011 by Knopf. 304 pages
Genres: History, Arts & Photography, Literature & Fiction. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Romanov Riches

Kirkus Reviews

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The author of numerous works on Russian cultural history races through the 300-year rule of the Romanovs (1613–1917), examining the rulers’ complicated relationships with creative artists.

| Read Full Review of Romanov Riches: Russian Write...

The New York Times

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It grew naturally from the choreographer’s well-known nostalgia for the lost world of his youth, a nostalgia Volkov clearly shares — and embellishes — in “Romanov Riches.” The czar Volkov seems to admire most is the autocratic and repressive Nicholas I, portrayed here through rose-tinted...

Feb 25 2011 | Read Full Review of Romanov Riches: Russian Write...

The Wall Street Journal

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"Derzhavin performed the administrative duties with great zeal and seriousness," Mr. Volkov writes, "wearying Catherine with detailed explanations of confusing and complex judicial cases, while what the empress needed from him was his poetry: she kept hinting that he should write more odes."

Feb 26 2011 | Read Full Review of Romanov Riches: Russian Write...

New York Journal of Books

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To those used to the utter lack of respect given to artists in contemporary times, especially in America, the topic of Mr. Volkov’s book may seem puzzling.

Feb 22 2011 | Read Full Review of Romanov Riches: Russian Write...

Christian Science Monitor

"Romanov Riches: Russian Writers and Artists Under the Tsars," by Solomon Volkov (Knopf Doubleday, 304 pp.) Award-winning writer Solomon Volkov traces the complex relationship between art and the Russian royal family, beginning with the rise of the Romanovs in 1613 on through their downfall in 1917.

Jan 12 2011 | Read Full Review of Romanov Riches: Russian Write...

Bookmarks Magazine

A truly essential work for anyone who wants to understand Russia’s passionate devotion to its most important artists, it is the prequel to Volkov’s acclaimed work The Magical Chorus: A History of Russian Culture from Tolstoy to Solzhenitsyn.

Feb 28 2011 | Read Full Review of Romanov Riches: Russian Write...

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