Petersburg: Poetic and prosaic
A new book explores facets of St. Petersburg from dark episodes in its history to modern Russian women.
Published: January 23, 2013 (Issue # 1743)
A cultural guide to St. Petersburg that was published in October by Academia Rossica in cooperation with Oxygen Books in London, “City-Pick St. Petersburg” offers a fascinating view of Russia’s northern capital as seen by more than sixty writers, poets, dancers and artists from different eras.
“It is an essential read — slip it into your bag alongside a Rough Guide,” is the advice to readers from Waterstones Books Quarterly, a literary magazine published by the U.K. book retailer Waterstones.
While a classic guidebook serves travelers up heaps of helpful practicalities, from ideas for quick refuels between sightseeing and water taxi schedules to skating rink locations and warnings about pickpockets’ favorite hangouts, “City-Pick St. Petersburg” offers readers a wealth of different flavors of St. Petersburg, creating a fabulous sense of the city. Flipping through the pages, the reader is presented with a diverse and beautiful portrait of the city, and a fair idea of what St. Petersburg is about.
“Along the canals, the globes of the street lamps throw pale circles onto the pastel walls; in the deserted Square of the Decembrists, the Bronze Horseman looks lost, the only complex, human form in the middle of a vast geometric space, standing out in the mist made of mingled water and sky, the receding perspectives of the palaces converging on the shining spire of the Peter and Paul Fortress,” reads an excerpt from a 1987 essay by French journalist and travel writer Olivier Rolin.
A rather different image of the city comes from an essay by the British writer Duncan Fallowell, the author of “One Hot Summer in St. Petersburg.” “St. Isaac’s balloons ahead, the cross mounted on an anchor at its apex (anchors and tritons are everywhere in St. Petersburg),” he writes. “This is the almightiest cathedral in the city, with Samsonic columns to prove it outside, and within an opulence of malachite and lapis lazuli and harlequinades of colored glass.”
Divided into nine chapters, the anthology interweaves memoirs and diaries with fiction and documentary prose as well as historical essays and travelers’ notebooks.
Incorporated in the book are short fragments from the novels of some of Russia’s greatest writers, including Leo Tolstoy’s “War And Peace,” Ivan Goncharov’s “Oblomov,” Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s “The Idiot” and Alexander Pushkin’s “The Captain’s Daughter.”
The lion’s share of the anthology, however, is devoted to much more recent writing, encompassing the prose of Vladimir Nabokov and Andrei Bitov, and the recollections of poet and Novel Prize winner Joseph Brodsky, composer Sergei Prokofiev and filmmaker Alexander Sokurov.
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