A couple of decades ago Andrea Lee wrote Russian Journal, a book about her experiences in the (then) Soviet Union; parts of it were serialized in The New Yorker. Lee writes well and I enjoyed her book, as I did Bruce Chatwin's In Patagonia and Paul Theroux's Great Railway Bazaar. Perhaps my reading was going through a travelogue phase at the time? Hard to say; copies of all three books are now lost in the basement, though they may variously bob to the surface at any moment, as all things seem to do around our house and in my mind. Which reminds me of the swimming-pool blind-man's-bluff game Marco Polo, named after another famous traveler. But I digress ...

Circa 1982 I had a conversation about Russian Journal with a colleague, JT. He had grown up in the USSR, the child of an American engineer working there. JT suspected that Lee, a black woman writer not fluent in the local language, failed to realize the extent to which she moved in sheltered intellectual circles. She wasn't exposed to the racism and poverty that JT saw as endemic to Russian society at the time.

But all cultures have their shameful undersides; one can only hope that things improve over the generations. And according to JT (and others) there is a peculiar and largely-invisible ocean of good will toward the USA among the Russian people --- a feeling of camaraderie based on historic parallelism, of amity between one big diverse country and another.

That's a neat notion, especially if it's still true. Spiritual-cultural connections among nations are extraordinarily valuable; they should be cherished and cultivated, so that in times of need the wellsprings of comradeship don't run dry. Friends are good to have ...

(see also ConflictAversion (22 Feb 2000), SovietSurvival (4 Aug 2001), PeasantWishes (8 Aug 2001), TreasureKnowledge (26 Oct 2002), ...)

TopicLiterature - TopicSociety - TopicPersonalHistory - 2003-03-28

(correlates: BovineMind, ReadLikely, BureaucraticImmuneSystem, ...)