This text provides a richly evocative exploration of Russia, its culture and people. Vast in scale and woven though with extraordinary stories and characters, it ranges from the splendour of 18th-century St Petersburg to the power of Stalinist propaganda, from folk art to the magic rituals of Asiatic shamans, from the poetry of Pushkin to the music of Mussorgsky and the films of Eisenstein, bringing to life an extraordinary cast of serf artists and aristocrats, revolutionaries and exiles, priests and libertines. Figes's book takes its title from a famous scene in "War and Peace", where the young and beautiful Countess Natasha hears a popular melody and, instinctively aware of the peasant rhythm and steps, begins to dance to it. Tolstoy shows that, however grand and foreign-educated they might be, at heart the Russians are Russians. Here, Orlando Figes explores the meaning of Natasha's dance: the often contradictory impulses and shared sensibilities that have given rise to one of the world's most dazzling cultures.
He shows how, perhaps more than any other country, Russia's sense of identity is embodied in its culture: not only its great poetry, music, books and paintings, but also in its common ideas, customs, habits and beliefs. Despite Russia's immense size and diversity it is this unique temperament that has held together a people scattered from Europe to Asia and enabled them to survive in the face of their own fearful history.
Orlando Figes is a professor at Birkbeck College, University of London, and former University Lecturer in History at Cambridge. Born in London in 1959, he graduated with a double-starred first in History from Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, in 1982. His first book, Peasant Russia, Civil War, was described by one reviewer as 'one of the most important books ever published on the Russian Revolution'.
His website can be found at www.orlandofiges.co.uk
Orlando Figes is Professor of History at Birkbeck College, University of London. He was born in 1959 and studied History at Cambridge. Before moving to Birkbeck he was a University Lecturer in History and Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. He is the author of Peasant Russia, Civil War, A People's Tragedy (which in 1997 was the winner of the Wolfson History Prize, the WH Smith Literary Award, the Longman / History Today Book of the Year Award, the NCR Book Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize), Natasha's Dance (which was shortlisted for the 2003 Samuel Johnson prize) and The Whisperers (2007).