In This Review

Natasha's Dance: A Cultural History of Russia
Natasha's Dance: A Cultural History of Russia
By Orlando Figes
Metropolitan Books, 2002, 544 pp

From Alexander Pushkin to Boris Pasternak, Figes contends, Russia's "artistic energy was almost wholly given to the quest to grasp the idea of its nationality." Art and philosophy have continually wrestled with what it means to be Russian, and what Russia's place and mission in the world should be. Starting from the celebrated tension between the European culture of the upper classes and the Russian culture of the peasantry, he sculpts around this core a diverse culture of many layers. One was the Western; another, the Slavophile; a third, the "populist," featuring the idealized peasant; and a fourth, the "Scythian," treating Russia as an "elemental" force rising from the Asian steppe. He uses each layer to capture a remarkable range of art, literature, music, social mores, intellectual style, and national myths. This work is big, bold, interpretative cultural history, which favors the social over the political when it flows into the currents of other historiographies.