posts on 3/21/2008 2:03:12 PM
What a boorish, prejudiced writer this Colin Thubron is! I have read both 'Among the Russians' and 'In Siberia', and was fairly shocked and dismayed at his sheer ignorance, which no number of over-written passages, bursting with words you can't find in the dictionary, can disguise.
Does he have anything positive to say about Russians or Russia? Anything? Even one little thing? No. You see, Russians all look the same, with 'faces like dough' or 'suet pudding' (lets hope he never goes to a country where the people have black, brown or yellow skins). They are rude and always drunk, live in poverty and subscribe to weird belief systems. The beer is watery and the meat is tough. The women are badly made up and everyone is too slow witted or powerless to change their messed up society.
Moreover, you might be surprised to know, that in Thubron's view of history, the nineteenth century anarchist Bakunin was in exile with Trotsky and Stalin (does he mean 'Bukharin'?) and that the Baltic states were occupied by the Bolsheviks in 1919. Actually, that was when, for the first time in their history, they obtained independence, though they soon became satellites of the west under the auspices of the League of Nations.
In the world according to Thubron, Russia is a country where the people's main pasttime is to die horribly either in camps or in wars. And here's the weird thing - nobody in Russia seems to know about these atrocities! The poor deluded fools! Why - that's almost as bad as an Old Etonian of a certain age turning a blind eye to what the bloke he fagged for got up to in Kenya and Malaya during his salad days. And lets be frank, how many British are familiar with these episodes from the history of the Empire?
Many of the Russians who have to put up with Thubron's no doubt tediously narrow minded company will try any desparate ruse to break through the inpenetrable barriers of prejudices he throws up against them. Young women give him the come on in desparate search for at least some point of contact, but the old fool retires in confusion. The men get drunk after he repulses their persistent and patient courtesy with insensitive questions about religion, history and politics. Naturally, after a while they start consciously telling him nonsense, a fate he thoroughly deserves.
The one thing that struck me about Thubron's work was his negative outlook of arrogant superiority from the beginning. This guarantees a traveller the worst possible experience simply because he/she is not open to the positives, and proves incapable of learning anything. Moscow today has hundreds of UK expats with this bad attitude. Russians see them coming. They may not challenge them directly, but ignorance shows. They advertise themselves as 'available for exploitation' - maybe through a business scam, a visit from the neo-Nazis or through some dubious enterprise linked to the sex trade. There are bad people in every society. Act like Thubron, and I believe you will be a magnet for such types. He should, given his attitude, consider himself lucky to have survived his Russian experiences unharmed.
Do not pay attention to Thubron. Visit Russia yourself, and with an open mind. You don't have to like the government, or share the same religious views to have a pleasant time there. If you must delve into history - be cautious, and bear in mind that what YOU were taught in school may not be the entire truth, instead of casting aspersions on those you talk with.