In Lost and Found in Russia: Lives in the Post-Soviet Landscape, British journalist Susan Richards explores how the sudden and dramatic changes following the fall of the USSR affected everyday people across Russia, based on visits she took to the country between 1992 and 2008.
Objectivity plays little importance in the book – it is, after all, a journalistic work based on anecdotes. Rather than downplaying her role in the story, Richards lets the reader know how she felt about and interacted with the colorful characters she met on her trips.
And speaking of characters, they are colorful – though not in a good way. Though the book claims to be a “portait of a society in transition”, Richards’ Russian friends can hardly be considered typical of the Russian population at large – they are the intelligentsia and the eccentrics. Following Richards in her interactions with them, the reader is exposed to a myriad of odd phenomena, including a trip down the Volga in a luxury “mafia” cruise yacht, an Old Believers’ community in Burny, Siberia, the community of the religious Vissarion sect in Kuragino, Professor Kaznacheev’s magic hypo-magnetic cylinder and mind control psychotronic weapons in Akademgorod, the white witch Nina Stepanova in Chamzhinka, an ecological pioneer settlement in Serpukhov, and a trip to the mysterious formerly closed Uzbek town of Zarafshan whose stories of UFOs, psychic research and uranium mines scare Richards into departing.
Some parts of the book are interesting, such as those on the Old Believers and the historical tensions in the Crimea, but the book’s biggest failure (and my biggest problem) is the author’s uncritical acceptance of the narrative that characterizes Russia as a mystical, Oriental, irrational, wild, unknowable, backward place. Mysterious Russian soul and all that. It’s clear that she loves Russia and the Russians, but she relies on the same tropes that Westerners have been using to describe the country for centuries.
Lost and Found in Russia by Susan Richards. Pub. 2010 by Other Press. Paperback, 320 pages. ISBN13: 9781590513484