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The Library of Babel

A Spin-off of http://bookwormshead.blogspot.co.uk

Journey into Russia

Journey Into Russia - Laurens van der Post This is not an unusual account. Plenty of journalists traveled through Russia in the last turbulent years, but far less did it when it was still known as Soviet Union. And even less went to USSR in the Sixties.

Laurens van der Post did it. And this account is worth a reading although it takes several pages before getting into the right climax.

On the whole, van der Post's own experience from the Urals to Siberia passing through the Caucasus has a limit which is accidentally also its strength: it's a strongly controlled trip.

Mr van der Post had to cope with the Soviet authorities who decided where he was allowed to go, what he could see and whom could speak with him. And yet, despite the tons and tons of facts and figures regarding the impressive (and fake) achievements of the Russian industry and agriculture at that time, we have a lot of good and interesting pages about how life went on in places like Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Siberia.

On the whole it's the times in which van der Post chose to be more spontaneous the best moments of this journey and not the ones in which he tried to draw political meanings or economic predictions. The work van der Post did in portraying the cities he visited trying to look beyond the red veil of Soviet efficiency is excellent while I'm a bit disappointed by the way he forgot to mention a couple of evil things regarding the way the Russian regime treated Ukraine.
But, well, I suppose it was not that easy getting first hand information that were reliable at that time and in those places.

A little note regarding Intourist. Van der Post is the first journalist I ever read that makes the guys working for this once infamous organization funny, curious and caring (with a few exceptions) while most of the times they were portrayed as little selfish tyrants by foreign travellers.