Book Review: Petersburg Perspectives

In this year of the 300th anniversary of the founding of St Petersburg,Petersburg Perspectivesbrings together a series ofbrilliant essays on the city.

The construction of this great former captial of the Russian Empire was so awe-inspring that it was said Peter the Great built it in the sky before finding a site for it on earth.

The essays are by both Russian and Western authors. Alexander Kushner’s provoking essay ‘In Petersburg We’ll Meet Again’ gives the perspective of a native of the city, whose childhood recollections include his returning to the city (then Leningrad) after the deprivations of the wartime siege, when so many had starved to death.

Orlando Figes deals with the stories of the city’s creation and its place as a literary captial, while John Nicolson (a British writer resident in St. Petersburg) explores the story of one St Petersburg house and the fortunes of its various inhabitants in the 20th century. After 1917, ‘Society ballrooms were surgically cut into a number of sections, each accommodating an entire family. In this way, St Petersburg’s once spacious apartments were transformed into labyrinths with miles of cluttered corridors and uncountable populations.’

These word-essays are linked by a continuous photo-essay, by Yury Molodkovets. This is made up of some 250 photographs of St Petersburg, its palaces, panoramas and people, all with crisp and informative captions.

Every English visitor to this contradictory and glorious city should read this book.

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