On Writer Wednesday, I discuss another author and his or her book. Today I am discussing two books that dive into Russia. The first, Russia: A 1,000 Year Chronicle of the Wild East by Martin Sixsmith, is a work of non-fiction and does all the title says- it chronicles 1000 years of Russian history. I particularly found the parts on Catherine the Great’s strive toward democracy and 1000 year old Kievan Rus interesting. In Sixsmith’s narrative, these points in time are a departure from the largely autocratic history of Russia. Whether under the Mongols, monarchy, or Communism, Russia has often been ruled by central authority in an autocracy. In fact, the Mongols and their conquest, as the first autocratic rulers, pulled Russia away from Europe and toward autocratic Asia. There would be times when Russia’s gaze turned west again, but the Mongols kept Russia out of the Renaissance and out of more European ways of living and ruling.
After finishing Russia, I read Notes from Underground by Dostoevsky. This was the first Russian classical literature work that I read. It has been described as being on the cusp of the nineteenth and twentieth century and that was true. It was part philosophy, part regret and part study of how we treat each other.
I purposefully read these books sequentially, wanting to see how the historic knowledge of Sixsmith’s book would inform the fiction of Dostoevsky. It is fitting then that autocracy should find a place in Notes from Underground. Dostoevsky asserts that people claim they want freedom, but really they wouldn’t know what to do with it. He goes even further then to illustrate that people live through books. Perhaps, it is no mistake then that throughout Russian history, especially Stalinist Communism, writers, poets, and artists were often suppressed. Some ideas were too powerful for the state to contend with in order to keep a united empire.
In a society where freedom allows us the opportunity to read what we choose and write what we wish to, it’s our responsibility to read and write freely and to go a step further, to embark on the paths of thought that they create.
Do you ever read literature in the context of its history? What are your thoughts on autocracy, literature and the ability to think freely?
My best to you all,