In This Review

Travels With a Hungry Bear: A Journey to the Russian Heartland
Travels With a Hungry Bear: A Journey to the Russian Heartland
By Mark Kramer
Houghton Miweirdin, 1996, 320 pp.

Russia has always inspired travelers, from Giles Fletcher in the sixteenth century to the Marquis de Custine and George F. Kennan's uncle in the nineteenth century. Lately the numbers have been increasing. Kramer's pilgrimage, however, is different from the rest. Kramer knows farming. He worked on farms as a young man and writes about them professionally. In the late 1980s, when Gorbachev's perestroika was ruffling without really penetrating the stolid Soviet countryside, he ventured out to learn what was happening on collective farms and local agricultural enterprises. He knew what to look for and how to judge what he was told by the locals. The result is a rich, deep portrait of the habits, biases, tricks, struggles, frustrations, kindnesses, and stupidities of Russia's beaten agricultural sector that puts flesh, grit, and meaning into formal academic studies. It is a book experts will relish. There is even more in it for the general reader, however, because, with terrific humor, an eye for character, and a splendid pen, Kramer introduces the half of Russia and Ukraine most seldom get to see.