Friday, September 15, 2017

Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd, Russia, 1917 - A World on the Edge - Helen Rappaport

Summary: Between the first revolution in February 1917 and Lenin’s Bolshevik coup in October, Petrograd (the former St Petersburg) was in turmoil – felt nowhere more keenly than on the fashionable Nevsky Prospekt where the foreign visitors and diplomats who filled hotels, clubs, bars and embassies were acutely aware of the chaos breaking out on their doorsteps and beneath their windows.

Among this disparate group were journalists, businessmen, bankers, governesses, volunteer nurses and expatriate socialites. Many kept diaries and wrote letters home: from an English nurse who had already survived the sinking of the Titanic; to the black valet of the US Ambassador, far from his native Deep South; to suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst, who had come to Petrograd to inspect the indomitable Women’s Death Battalion led by Maria Bochkareva.

Helen Rappaport draws upon this rich trove of material, much of it previously unpublished, to carry us right up to the action – to see, feel and hear the Revolution as it happened to a diverse group of individuals who suddenly felt themselves trapped in a ‘red madhouse.’ (Summary and pic from

I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

My Review: I don’t know if you read Helen Rappaport’s The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra, but as soon as I started reading Caught in the Revolution, I remembered exactly what I thought about that book because this one is very consistently like that one. It’s about a similar time, a similar place, a similar topic, and a similar organizational and writing style. It’s like Rappaport took the telescope she was viewing the Romanov sisters with and just zoomed outward enough that she was looking at the city and the surrounding culture that was going on at the same time. I think they’re great companion books that way, actually, and I can totally understand how after an author would do so much research about this era that she would be able to write this book as well, using the same ton of research and original documents that were helpful for writing The Romanov Sisters.

So what did I think, you say? I’m so glad you asked.

First off, I am very impressed with the amount of knowledge and research that has been stuffed into this book. It’s astonishing, really. When I look at this book—which is quite hefty all on its own, actually—I can imagine that it’s like a meteor—it’s small, but hugely packed with information way denser than its outside would suggest. It’s just a virtual tome of wealth of this era. Secondly, as to be expected in a novel this in-depth and well-researched, it’s quite dense. It was not a book that I would sit down and read for a casual half hour of reading. No. I had to be focused and on my game in order to keep up what was going on. It moves quickly and from character to character. There were a few consistent characters throughout, but as it is not historical fiction but rather a historical narrative, the journalists who served as the main characters and eye witnesses to the revolution were quoted and discussed in a very scholarly way. That is to say, the descriptions were there, the dialogue was there, but I wasn’t getting all warm and fuzzy with the goings on. It was all very academic. That being said, Rappaport is obviously an accomplished writer, but her style in this book does not make for the kind of light beach or airplane reading. That’s okay, though. We can’t only survive on cake, can we? Sometimes we must read something of substance. This book is of substance. I thought the topic was fascinating and very pertinent to what is going on in our world right now.

This book took me a very long time to read. Usually I’m a really fast reader and if I am really into a book, I can finish that thing in a day or so no prob. If it’s JFic? Forgettaboutit. I can polish that off in a few hours. This book took me weeks. Months. It’s partly my fault because I wasn’t reading it consistently. It really is very heavy and dense and although it is a very interesting era, it just made for the kind of reading that frankly I’m not always up to.  However, like I said, that is my issue.

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This is a book about a revolution. There is some discussion of violence, but it is not gratuitous. There is some language, but it is quotes from people who lived through the revolution and the time surrounding it. I found this book to be very appropriate and one that could be shared in any setting basically. 

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