In This Review

A World of Empires: The Russian Voyage of the Frigate Pallada
A World of Empires: The Russian Voyage of the Frigate Pallada
By Edyta M. Bojanowska
Harvard University Press, 2018, 384 pp

In 1852, the Russian frigate Pallada set sail from a naval base near St. Petersburg on a voyage that would round the Cape of Good Hope, cross the Indian Ocean to Singapore, and then, on the heels of the American commodore Matthew Perry’s famous mission to open Japan to U.S. trade, do the same for Russia. On board was the novelist Ivan Goncharov, who wrote a wildly popular travelogue describ-ing the adventure. Bojanowska takes apart Goncharov’s account like a precious timepiece, examining each component to reveal a different side to Russia’s entry into the age of imperialism. Sensitive to Goncharov’s artistry, she balances his admiration for British colonial administrators and the lessons he took from them for his own government as it colonized the Caucasus and Siberia with his visceral national pride in the “humanity” Russia brought to its own “civilizing mission.” The result is a splendid exposition of the ways in which, from the 1850s onward, Russia’s history, like that of Belgium, France, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom, was shaped by the process of colonization.