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Orlando Figes’s enthralling, richly evocative history has been heralded as a literary masterpiece on Russia, the lives of those who have shaped its culture, and the enduring spirit of a people. 'Awe-inspiring … Natasha’s Dance has all the qualities of an epic tragedy’ Frances Welsh, Mail on Sunday 'A tour de force by the great storyteller of modern Russian historians … Figes mobilizes a cast of serf harems, dynasties, politburos, libertines, filmmakers, novelists, composers, poets, tsars and tyrants … superb, flamboyant and masterful’ Simon Sebag Montefiore, Financial Times 'It is so much fun to read that I hesitate to write too much, for fear of spoiling the pleasures and surprises of the book’ Anne Applebaum, Sunday Telegraph 'Magnificent … Figes is at his exciting best’ Robert Service, Guardian 'Breathtaking … The title of this masterly history comes from War and Peace, when the aristocratic heroine, Natasha Rostova, finds herself intuitively picking up the rhythm of a peasant dance … One of those books that, at times, makes you wonder how you have so far managed to do without it’ Robin Buss, Independent on Sunday 'Thrilling, dizzying … I would defy any reader not to be captivated’ Lindsey Hughes, Literary Review 'Pour yourself a shot of vodka, open this brilliant, ambitious book, read and revel in it’ Melissa Murray, Sunday Tribune On a misty spring morning in 1703 a dozen Russian horsemen rode across the bleak and barren marshlands where the Neva river runs into the Baltic sea. They were looking for a site to build a fort against the Swedes, then at war with Russia, and the owners of these long abandoned swamps. But the vision of the wide and bending river flowing to the sea was full of hope and promise to the Tsar of land-locked Russia, riding at the head of his scouting troops. As they approached the coast he dismounted from his horse. With his bayonet he cut two strips of peat and arranged them in a cross on the marshy ground. Then Peter said: 'Here shall be a town.' Few places could have been less suitable for the metropolis of Europe's largest state. The network of small islands in the Neva's boggy delta were overgrown with trees. Swept by thick mists from melting snow in spring and overblown by winds that often caused the rivers to rise above the land, it was not a place for human habitation, and even the few fishermen who ventured there in summer did not stay for long. Wolves and bears were its only residents. A thousand years ago the area was underneath the sea. There was a channel flowing from the Baltic sea to lake Ladoga, with islands where the Pulkovo and Pargolovo heights are found today. Even in the reign of Catherine the Great, during the late eighteenth century, Tsarskoe Selo, where she built her Summer Palace on the hills of Pulkovo, was still known by the locals as Sarskoe Selo. The name came from the Finnish word for an island, saari. When Peter's soldiers dug into the ground they found water a metre or so below. The northern island, where the land was slightly higher, was the only place to lay firm foundations. In four months of furious activity, in which at least half the workforce died, 20,000 conscripts built the Peter and Paul Fortress, digging out the land with their bare hands, dragging logs and stones or carting them by back, and carrying the earth in the folds of their clothes. The sheer scale and tempo of construction was astonishing. Within a few years the estuary became an energetic building site and, once Russia's control of the coast had been secured with victories over Sweden in 1709-10, the city took on a new shape with every passing day. A quarter of a million serfs and soldiers from as far afield as the Caucasus and Siberia worked around the clock to clear forests, dig canals, lay down roads and erect palaces. Carpenters and stonemasons (forbidden by decree to work elsewhere) flooded into the new capital. Hauliers, ice-breakers, sled-drivers, boatsmen and labourers arrived in search of work, sleeping in the wooden shacks that crowded into every empty space. To start with, everything was done in a rough and ready fashion with primitive hand tools: axes predominated over saws, and simple carts were made from unstripped trunks with tiny birch log wheels. Such was the demand for stone materials that every boat and vehicle arriving in the town was obliged to bring a set tonnage of rock. But new industries soon sprang up to manufacture brick, glass, mica and tarpaulin, while the shipyards added constantly to the busy traffic on the city's waterways, with sailing boats and barges loaded down with stone, and millions of logs floated down the river every year. Like the magic city of a Russian fairy tale, St Petersburg grew up with such fantastic speed, and everything about it was so brilliant and new, that it soon became a place enshrined in myth. When Peter declared, 'Here shall be a town', his words echoed the divine command, 'Let there be light.' And, as he said these words, legend has it that an eagle dipped in flight over Peter's head and settled on top of two birch trees that were tied together to form an arch. Eighteenth-century panegyrists elevated Peter to the status of a god: he was Titan, Neptune and Mars rolled into one. They compared 'Petropolis' to ancient Rome. It was a link that Peter also made by adopting the title of 'Imperator' and by casting his own image on the new rouble coin, with laurel wreath and armour, in emulation of Caesar. The famous opening lines of Pushkin's epic poem The Bronze Horseman (1833) (which every Russian schoolchild knows by heart) crystallized the myth of Petersburg's creation by a providential man: On a shore by the desolate waves He stood, with lofty thoughts, And gazed into the distance ... Thanks to Pushkin's lines, the legend made its way into folklore. The city that was named after Peter's patron saint, and has been renamed three times since as politics have changed, is still called simply 'Peter' by its residents.* In the popular imagination the miraculous emergence of the city from the sea assigned to it a legendary status from the start. The Russians said that Peter made his city in the sky and then lowered it, like a giant model, to the ground. It was the only way they could explain the creation of a city built on sand. The notion of a capital without foundations in the soil was the basis of the myth of Petersburg which inspired so much Russian literature and art. In this mythology, Petersburg was an unreal city, a supernatural realm of fantasies and ghosts, an alien kingdom of the apocalypse. It was home to the lonely haunted figures who inhabit Gogol's Tales Of Petersburg (1835); to fantasists and murderers like Raskolnikov in Dostoevsky's novel Crime And Punishment (1866). The vision of an all-destroying flood became a constant theme in the city's tales of doom, from Pushkin's Bronze Horseman to Bely's Petersburg (1913-14). But that prophecy was based on fact: for the city had been built above the ground. Colossal quantities of rubble had been laid down to lift the streets beyond the water's reach. Frequent flooding in the city's early years necessitated repairs and reinforcements that raised them higher still. When, in 1754, building work began on the present Winter Palace, the fourth upon that site, the ground on which its foundations were laid was three metres higher than fifty years before. A city built on water with imported stone, Petersburg defied the natural order. The famous granite of its river banks came from Finland and Karelia; the marble of its palaces from Italy, the Urals and the Middle East; gabbro and prophyry was brought in from Sweden; dolerite and slate from lake Onega; sandstone from Poland and Germany; travertine from Italy; and tiles from the Low Countries and Lübeck. Only limestone was quarried locally. The achievement of transporting such quantities of stone has been surpassed only by the building of the pyramids. The huge granite rock for the pedestal of Falconet's equestrian statue of Peter the Great was twelve metres high and nearly thirty metres in circumference. Weighing in at some 660,000 kilograms, it took a thousand men over eighteen months to move it, first by a series of pulleys and then on a specially constructed barge, the thirteen kilometres from the forest clearing where it had been found to the capital. Pushkin's Bronze Horseman turned the inert monument into an emblem of Russia's destiny. The thirty-six colossal granite columns of St Isaac's cathedral were cut out of the ground with sledgehammers and chisels, and then hauled by hand over thirty kilometres to barges on the gulf of Finland, from where they were shipped to St Petersburg and mounted by huge cranes built out of wood. The heaviest rocks were shifted during the winter, when snow made hauling easier, although this meant waiting for the thaw in spring before they could be shipped. But even then the job required an army of several thousand men with 200-horse sleigh teams. Petersburg did not grow up like other towns. Neither commerce nor geopolitics can account for its development. Rather it was built as a work of art. As the French writer Madame de Stael said on her visit to the city in 1812, 'here everything has been created for visual perception'. Sometimes it appeared that the city was assembled as a giant mis en scène - its buildings and its people serving as no more than theatrical props. European visitors to Petersburg, accustomed to the mélange of architectural styles in their own cities, were particularly struck by the strange unnatural beauty of its ensembles and often compared them to something from the stage. 'At each step I was amazed by the combination of architecture and stage decoration', wrote the travel writer the Marquis de Custine in the 1830s. 'Peter the Great and his successors looked upon their capital as a theatre.' In a sense St Petersburg was just a grander version of that later stage production, the 'Potemkin villages': cardboard cut-out classic structures rigged up overnight along the Dniepr river banks to delight Catherine the Great as she sailed past. Petersburg was conceived as a composition of natural elements -water, stone and sky. This conception was reflected in the city panoramas of the eighteenth century, which set out to emphasize the artistic harmony of all these elements. Having always loved the sea, Peter was attracted by the broad, fast-flowing river Neva and the open sky as a backdrop for his tableau. Amsterdam (which he had visited) and Venice (which he only knew from books and paintings) were early inspirations for the lay-out of the palace-lined canals and embankments. But Peter was eclectic in his architectural tastes and borrowed what he liked from Europe's capitals. The austere classical baroque style of Petersburg's churches, which set them apart from Moscow's brightly coloured onion domes, was a mixture of St Paul's cathedral in London, St Peter's in Rome, and the single-spired churches of Riga, in what is now Latvia. From his European travels in the 1690s Peter brought back architects and engineers, craftsmen and artists, furniture designers and landscape gardeners. Scots, Germans, French, Italians - they all settled in large numbers in St Petersburg in the eighteenth century. No expense was spared for Peter's 'paradise'. Even at the height of the war with Sweden in the 1710s he meddled constantly in details of the plans. To make the Summer Gardens 'better than Versailles' he ordered peonies and citrus trees from Persia, ornamental fish from the Middle East, even singing birds from India, although few survived the Russian frost. Peter issued decrees for the palaces to have regular façades in accordance with his own approved designs, for uniform roof lines and prescribed iron railings on their balconies and walls on the 'embankment side'. To beautify the city Peter even had its abattoir rebuilt in the rococo style. 'There reigns in this capital a kind of bastard architecture', wrote Count Algarotti in the middle of the eighteenth century 'It steals from the Italian, the French and the Dutch.' By the nineteenth century, the view of Petersburg as an artificial copy of the western style had become commonplace. Alexander Herzen, the nineteenth-century writer and philosopher, once said that Petersburg 'differs from all other European towns by being like them all'. Yet, despite its obvious borrowings, the city had its own distinctive character, a product of its open setting between sea and sky, the grandeur of its scale, and the unity of its architectural ensembles, which lent the city a unique artistic harmony. The artist Alexander Benois, an influential figure in the Diaghilev circle who made a cult of eighteenth-century Petersburg, captured this harmonious conception. 'If it is beautiful', he wrote in 1902, 'then it is so as a whole, or rather in huge chunks.' Whereas older European cities had been built over several centuries, ending up at best as collections of beautiful buildings in diverse period styles, Petersburg was completed within fifty years and according to a single set of principles. Nowhere else, moreover, were these principles afforded so much space. Architects in Amsterdam and Rome were cramped for room in which to slot their buildings. But in Petersburg they were able to expand their classical ideals. The straight line and the square were given space to breathe in expansive panoramas. With water everywhere, architects could build mansions low and wide, using their reflections in the rivers and canals to balance their proportions, producing an effect that is unquestionably beautiful and grandiose. Water added lightness to the heavy baroque style, and movement to the buildings set along its edge. The Winter Palace is a supreme example. Despite its immense size (1,050 rooms, 1,886 doors, 1,945 windows, 117 staircases) it almost feels as if it is floating on the embankment of the river; the syncopated rhythm of the white columns along its blue facade creates a sense of motion as it reflects the Neva flowing by. The key to this architectural unity was the planning of the city as a series of ensembles linked by a harmonious network of avenues and squares, canals and parks, set against the river and the sky. The first real plan dates from the establishment of a Commission for the Orderly Development of St Petersburg in 1737, twelve years after Peter's death. At its centre was the idea of the city fanning out in three radials from the Admiralty, just as Rome did from the Piazza del Popolo. The golden spire of the Admiralty thus became the symbolic and topographical centre of the city, visible from the end of the three long avenues (Nevsky, Gorokhovaia and Voznesensky) that converge on it. From the 1760s, with the establishment of a Commission for the Masonry Construction of St Petersburg, the planning of the city as a series of ensembles became more pronounced. Strict rules were imposed to ensure the use of stone and uniform façades for the palaces constructed on the fashionable Nevsky Prospekt. These rules underlined the artistic conception of the avenue as a straight unbroken line stretching as far as the eye could see. It was reflected in the harmonious panoramas by the artist M. I. Mathaev commissioned by the Empress Elizabeth to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the city in 1753. But visual harmony was not the only purpose of such regimentation: the zonal planning of the capital was a form of social ordering as well. The aristocratic residential areas around the Winter Palace and the Summer Gardens were clearly demarcated by a series of canals and avenues from the zone of clerks and traders near the Haymarket (Dostoevsky's Petersburg) or the workers' suburbs further out. The bridges over the Neva, as readers who have seen Eisenstein's film October (1928) know, could be lifted to prevent the workers coming into the central areas. St Petersburg was more than a city. It was a vast, almost Utopian, project of cultural engineering to reconstruct the Russian as a European man. In Notes From Underground (1864) Dostoevsky called it 'the most abstract and intentional city in the whole round world'. Every aspect of its Petrine culture was intended as a negation of 'medieval' (seventeenth-century) Muscovy. As Peter conceived it, to become a citizen of Petersburg was to leave behind the 'dark' and 'backward' customs of the Russian past in Moscow and to enter, as a European Russian, in the modern western world of progress and enlightenment. * The name in Russian is pronounced 'Pyotr' - so 'Peter' (from the original Dutch spelling and pronounciation of 'Sankt Piter Burkh') suggests a certain foreign-ness which, as the poet Joseph Brodsky pointed out, somehow sounds correct for such a non-Russian town (see Joseph Brodsky, 'A Guide to a Renamed City', in Less Than One: Selected Essays (London, 1986), p. 71). Orlando Figes, prize-winning author of A People's Tragedy, returns with Natasha's Dance: A Cultural History of Russia, an in-depth look into Russian culture and what it actually means to be Russian. Orlando Figes talks to penguin.co.uk about the inspiration behind Natasha's Dance and his experiences of Russia. What inspired you to write Natasha's Dance? I wanted to write something positive, something beautiful and enjoyable that would express my passion for Russia. Working on A People's Tragedy had been extremely grim in many ways. I spent many years in Soviet archives reading the dead language of Soviet bureaucrats. After that, I was approached by publishers who wanted me to write a sequel to A People's Tragedy: the even more depressing story of the Stalinist era. But I could not face that then. I wanted to touch base with the good things in Russia, above all the culture I had always loved. This, it seemed to me, was the one thing that was lasting and worth holding onto from the Russian tradition, following the collapse of the Soviet regime; and my Russian friends all felt the same. As a teenager I fell in love with Russia through its literature. Tolstoy was my first hero. Looking back, I see now why his preoccupation with the Big Ideas - the search for Truth, the question of the existence of a God - should have possessed me. Though my views of Tolstoy may have changed, my passion for Russia is still channelled through its books and paintings, its music and its poetry. When I go to Russia I cherish all the late-night conversations one inevitably has with one's Russian friends about literature and art, and how all this relates to the question of 'Russia'; its character, its history, its customs and conventions, its spiritual essence and its destiny. Nowhere in the West have I ever met such passion for ideas. In a way Natasha's Dance is a continuation of these passionate debates. After twenty years of studying Russia, I think I understand the true significance of its cultural achievements in the shaping of that nation; and its complex, sometimes baffling, identity. How did you tackle such an enormous subject? With enormous difficulty! Natasha's Dance has been a labour of love; but it's also been a tempestuous affair, which nearly ended in divorce. I threw away two versions of the book - literally threw away! The major problem was trying to work out what a 'cultural history' should be trying to achieve. 'Culture' can mean anything and everything these days. I spent three years simply reading and taking general notes without a clear plan. It was at this point that I made my mind up; the 'thing' that I was after was a temperament, a sensibility that held the Russians together and, perhaps more than any state or church, defined them as a nation. And this temperament was embodied in their 'culture': not just in their books and paintings but their customs and beliefs, their social habits and attitudes to childhood, marriage, death, the landscape, and so on. My aim was to tease out a 'Russian temperament', a common set of habits, ideas and attitudes, that could be related in a meaningful way to the works of high culture; like books and painting, poetry and music, operas and films, which form the central subject of Natasha's Dance. I also wanted to add a narrative dimension to the book. It seemed to me that the strength of Russia's culture is (for want of a better word) its 'interconnectedness': works of art are constantly referring to each other and especially to previous works. There is, in other words, a strong tradition, a cultural lineage - stretching back essentially to Pushkin - that binds the Russians to a common set of values and ideas. That is why I went into the archives in Russia: to find stories I could interweave through the narrative of Natasha's Dance. Readers should watch out for the saga of the Sheremetev and Volkonsky clans, and for leitmotifs like St Petersburg, the icon or the horse: they are intended to suggest the rich and complex symbols and emotions of this cultural tradition. How often do you travel to Russia and what was your most memorable experience there? These days I go once or twice a year, usually only for a short period because I have young children and a wife who works. But as the children get older I shall return to my previous pattern of going there for longer periods. When I was a graduate student working on my Ph.D., I spent nearly two years in Moscow. We are talking now about the period between 1984 and 1986. It was extremely hard in many ways, a constant struggle to get food; a tiny cockroach-infested room shared with a Soviet student who kept a careful watch on me; endless hassles in my research. Access to the archives was extremely limited. Foreigners had to work in a special room. We could not look at the catalogues - they began to become available only around 1987 - so we had to find out the numbers of the files from Soviet historians and archivists. Carrying out historical research was tantamount to spying and to some extent that is how the Soviet authorities regarded my activities. There were a number of occasions when I was told that there were no more materials for me in the archives but I usually managed to buy myself more time by turning up with flowers for the pretty female head of the foreign room, who was of course an agent of the KGB. My success was also partly down to spending lots of time in the toilet: it was the one place where I could smoke (I have since given up) and since there was only one toilet in the building it was a good place to befriend the Soviet historians and archivists who also liked to smoke. In spite of all the difficulties, and perhaps in part because of them, I had the time of my life during those two years at Moscow University. I met some wonderful people who became lasting friends. What did you read when you were growing up? My mother was an editor at Blackies, the children's publisher, in the 1960s, and she would bring home spare books from time to time. I remember Topsy and Tim from the age of about five. I loved Charlotte's Web and Emil and the Detectives. At the age of about nine or ten I was bowled over by a book called I Am David by Anne Holm about an orphan who escapes from a concentration camp and walks alone across Europe. The first real history book I read was G.M. Trevelyan's Illustrated Social History of England, I must have been about twelve. Then I discovered Emile Zola's, Thérèse Raquin, followed by L'Assomoir and Germinal in those black Penguin Classic editions, which I began to collect. I liked the realism, another type of social history I suppose. And then, at about fourteen, I fell in love with Russian literature: Tolstoy's Childhood; Boyhood; Youth shaped my own idea of growing up. Is there a particular book or author that has had a significant influence on you as a writer? As a writer, no. I have fashioned my own style and I wouldn't say that I have been influenced by anyone in particular. But there are lots of writers I admire. Even historians. I think Simon Schama is a wonderful writer, although I wouldn't recommend anyone to try and write like him. I suppose my own ideal is simple and lucid. I tell my students to read Orwell and Chekhov.
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szpiiin rekomenduje Albertus.pl opinia nr 44773 z 09.12.2009
Przede wszystkim skusiły mnie ceny - kilkanaście procent niższe niż w tradycyjnych księgarniach. To dotyczy również nowości. Wszystko można odebrać na miejscu (w Poznaniu) za darmo. Miła i kompetentna obsługa. Dla mnie rewelacja. Polecam wszystkim.:))
zakupy: fantastyka; grudzień 2009
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minusy: jak dotąd nie zauwazyłam
Lukasz nie poleca Albertus.pl opinia nr 2260 z 08.12.2006
Sklepu nie polecam, do dziś przesyłka nie dotarła, zero kontaktu ze sklepem, osoba odpowiedzialna nie odbiera telefonów, nie ma zwrotu zapłaconych pieniążków. Jeśli sprawy nie rozwiąże ALBERTUS podejmę odpowiednie kroki prawne.
zakupy: Walka z terroryzmem w Unii Europejskiej - Damian Szlachter; 28.11.2006.
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Odpowiedź sklepu 24.07.2007
W drugiej połowie grudnia 2006 roku sklep zmienił właściciela. Od tego czasu sklep przeszedł restrukturyzacje; został między innymi unowocześniony system oraz znacznie polepszona jakość obsługi klienta.
firstname.lastname@example.org nie poleca Albertus.pl opinia nr 89 z 02.11.2005
Towar nie dostarczony, mimo przedpłaty. Brak odpowiedzi na maila. Nieaktualny numer telefonu. To jakiś oszust!
zakupy: Książki; wrzesień 2005
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