A witty and insightful tour of contemporary Russia, using its Golden Age writers, from Pushkin to Tolstoy, as guides: part history, part sociopolitical commentary, Mud and Stars reveals the heart of a country that never fails to surprise us.
"We sit in the mud, my friend, and reach for the stars." --Turgenev, Fathers and Sons
In her award-winning books, Sara Wheeler has transported readers from the Arctic Circle to Antarctica, from the Andean foothills of Chile to the pristine islands of Greece. Now, in Mud and Stars, Wheeler takes us into the heart of Russia. Bypassing the major cities as much as possible, she instead goes to the places that produced Pushkin, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and other giants of Russia's Golden Age. We see the fabled Trigorskoye ("three hills") estate that Pushkin frequented during his exile, now preserved in his honor. We look for Dostoevsky along the waters of Lake Ilmen, site of the only house the restless writer ever owned. We pay tribute to the single stone that remains of Tolstoy's birthplace. The authors' lives and works are woven into Wheeler's descriptions of their historical homes, giving us full, rich portraits of the many diverse Russias from which these writers spoke.
As Wheeler travels, she follows local guides, boards with families in modest homestays, eats roe and pelmeni and cabbage soup, invokes recipes from Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking, learns the language, and observes the weighty pattern of outcry and silence that characterizes life under Putin. Illustrated with both historic images and contemporary snapshots of the people and places that shaped Wheeler's journey, Mud and Stars gives us timely, stunning, deeply personal and wickedly funny insight into a country that has become more important than ever.