Dervla Murphy: Through Siberia by Accident

December 17, 2013

517ezngL10L._AA160_Turns out I read the books (this one and the previous post) in the wrong chronological order, but it didn’t really matter. This one was as good, if not better. She certainly lives adventurously: getting on in years, not speaking a word of Russian, travelling on her own by public transport… and she meets lots of ordinary Russians in all sorts of situations and experiences much hospitality and friendship.

She’s very well-read, and researches thoroughly, too, so whatever place or historical event she is referring to is fully and clearly explained, and her travels are easy to follow with the map in th book and an atlas, if you’re so inclined (I am). She clearly thinks that not everything about the old Soviet Union was a mistake/pure evil/insanity, and is clear about the ravages wrought by the translation to capitalism on top of the ravages of the old system, and the new corruption on top of the old. She relates many interesting conversations with a wide variety of Russians and other nationalities, and what I particularly liked about both of these books is that she asks the questions I’d have wanted to ask, and rarely flinches from the awkward questions, either. What did occur to me, though, as I neared the end of the book, is whether she would have been able to have such conversations, or met with such frankness, if her travels had taken place in Soviet times. Hearts and minds have the freedom, now: the freedom to be exploited, ripped off, monetised; capitalism doesn’t give a monkey’s as long as it can continue making money out of you, and it has far more subtle means of controlling your mind than any KGB or Stalinist thought-police…

Murphy is a true traveller: she is exploring and writing about places and times that have not yet been documented, even though there are no actual blank spaces on the maps of the regions she visited; she engages her readers and leaves them with plenty to think about – what more do you want?

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