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Natasha's Dance: A Cultural History of Russia

4.14 of 5 stars 4.14  ·  rating details  ·  1,632 ratings  ·  143 reviews
Beginning in the eighteenth century with the building of St. Petersburg and culminating with the Soviet regime, Figes examines how writers, artists, and musicians grappled with the idea of Russia itself--its character, spiritual essence, and destiny. Skillfully interweaving the great works--by Dostoevsky, Stravinsky, and Chagall--with folk embroidery, peasant songs, religi ...more
Paperback, 729 pages
Published October 17th 2003 by Picador (first published 2002)
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Figes has gathered a lot of cultural information and organized it into one book, which is very helpful if you want to get a general review of Russia's culture without referring to multiple sources. Some threads that go through the entire book and tie the narrative together, such as the history of the Fountain House in St. Petersburg, almost give you an impression that you are reading fiction. However, some of the information that Figes offers is incorrect. For example, when talking about Dostoev ...more
Chiara Pagliochini
« L’odore della terra russa è diverso, e queste sono cose che non si possono dimenticare… Un uomo ha un solo luogo di nascita, una sola patria, un solo paese – può avere un solo paese – e il luogo di nascita è il fattore più importante della sua vita. […] Non ho lasciato la Russia di mia volontà, anche se c’era molto che non mi piaceva nella mia Russia e nella Russia in genere. Ma il diritto di criticare la Russia è mio, perché la Russia è mia e perché io l’amo, e non concedo questo diritto a ne ...more
I'm tempted to say that this is a great book because like Russian art it has a soul, but that sounds presumptuous since I've not an expert on any Russian art and I've never been to Russia. But I've been a fan of Russian literature--especially the great novels of the 19th century, and of Russian music and particularly of the Russian ballet and its offshoots in the West.

The book starts with an episode from War and Peace in which Natasha and her brother visit an retired army officer (their uncle) w
Debating between a three and four star rating for this. It wasn't necessarily 'bad' in most regards but it didn't stand out as being exceptional either. There were a couple factual errors but others have pointed those out so I will concede to them. Mostly, I was aggravated with its structure. There were many interesting avenues it mentioned but never really explored. I understand this is just supposed to be an overview of Russian culture and I did learn quite a bit from it but I think I would ha ...more
I found this a great, wide net for Russian culture--I read it before a trip to Russia, and despite Figes continuing to be controversial figure in Russian scholarship, no one ever questioned his thoroughness. A great great introduction to Russian history and culture.

The book was assigned reading for an alumni trip to Russia I took in 2006, and I was SO glad I'd tackled it--though it's a monster, to be sure. Easy reading, and divided thematically rather than chronologically, which prevents it fro
Nataşa’nın dansı ismini Tolstoy’un "Savaş ve Barış" isimli eserindeki Nataşa karakterinin bir soylu olmasına rağmen bir köy müziği eşliğindeki dansından alıyor. Yazar burada karakterin farklı öğretilerle büyütülmüş olmasına rağmen içindeki Rus ruhunu her daim korumasından etkilenerek bu tarih kitabına bu ismi vermiş.

Kitap 8 ana bölümden oluşan bir kültürel tarih incelemesi. Salt bilgi içerikli olduğu için bir kurgu romandan beklenilen akıcılık bu eserden beklenmemeli ancak muadillerine göre kol
I've been reading this book on and off for years, often re-reading the same passages since if you study just about anything related to Russia, you can use this book in a paper. It's an awesome book, and it should be obligatory reading in any Russian class. I love the way in which it is written, which shows immense skill and planning on behalf of Figes. Authors or composers are not just presented in the manner birth-life-death, but interwoven in a specific time frame. Each chapter jumps back and ...more
John Carter McKnight
A cultural history of Russia that's immensely readable and absolutely exhaustively referenced: it's a goldmine of primary sources. The structure is thematic, ratcheting forward and back across topics in a way that actually reinforces nicely the broad structure of Russian history by returning to key places and times from different perspectives.

Natasha's Dance is hefty, at some 580 pages, but some of the most fluid and engaging nonfiction I've read. Figes' style is conversational but never shallo
As a schoolboy I wrote to Orlando Figes as part of the project to write my graduation paper. It was 1998 and the questions I asked did not make much sense, but ask I did before getting on with writing my piece. I had read the recently published 'A People's Tragedy' and Figes could do no wrong in my eyes.

Orlando Figes is an interesting writer, and one who should take a lot of credit for his part in steering mass-published Russian history away from the cover-all texts of a decade ago (including th
Does what it says on the tin.

Broken down into thematic sections, Figes offers analysis of the roles Europe and Asia played in the Russian imagination and world view, social and architectural differences between St. Petersburg and Moscow, peasant traditions and their influence on high culture, the love affair and dismal breakup between the avant garde and the Soviet state, and many more aspects of Russia's diverse cultural history, often following key players' biographical details to illustrate h
K.M. Weiland
I've always been nominally interested in Russian history (the Romanovs mostly), but I've never really studied anything beyond the 1917 Revolution. This mammoth approach to Russia's cultural history provides a fascinating glimpse into the heart of a foreign nation - and, in so doing, an interesting, if perhaps unintended, perspective on my own national ideology.

I can't comment on Figes's historicity or accuracy, since much of what's here is new material to me. But I will say that I found it fasc
Anya Nielsen
Orlando Figes is a Professor of History at Birkbeck College, University of London and has written 8 books about Russia. Natasha's Dance is a seminal work of over 700 pages with maps and notes and further reading.
History is a statement of facts, that is those that have not been suppressed in the archives. Writing history is uncomplicated but writing about the culture of Russia without being Russian is infinitely more difficult. Figes facts are impressive but I felt a certain underlying antipathy
Robert Morris
The theme of this book is Russia's attempt to understand itself. Figes documents the many ways that artists attempted to do this over 200 years. It's amazing how similar the search seems, even after revolutions (in every sense) in the consumers and sensibilities guiding the culture. Whether the heights of society were inhabited by Aristocrats, Commissars or Oligarchs, a sense of Russia's significance, and a struggle to understand exactly what that significance was shines through. I found the Rus ...more
Peter Ellwood
I read this, knowing that Orlando Figes' name was under a bit of a cloud because he had admitted to writing one or two positive reviews of his own work on the likes of Amazon or Goodreads; and because one or two jealous academics had claimed he made up one or two of the quotes he put in The Whisperers.

Well. All I can say is that I read it too, at the recommendation of a pretty intellectual Russian national, who said "read this book and you will understand Russia".

So I did. And, maybe, I do. It's
I couldn't put this down. Figes' writing is splendid, and his insights into the Russian character and history are provocative, he supports them with what appears to be a masterful understanding of her literature and arts. I don't think anyone can better his descriptions of the differences between Moscow and St. Petersburg as illustrative of the deep bifurcation in the Russian soul. It is particularly interesting when he discusses the artificiality of the cultural construct for Russian "identity" ...more
Nguyen Santiago
Commonsensical and repetitious, Natasha's Dance is centred around a never-ending list of well-known dualities in Russian culture. West/East, aristocrat/serf, good serf/bad serf, Russian Orthodox/various Christianities, etc/etc - over and over we are given accounts of people's lives to illuminate these binaries, in no particular order and with no overarching analysis or intellectual depth.

There are large holes in the telling, for example the ignoring of the Jews and their place in Russian histor
Katia Nosenko
Well written journey into the Russian cultural and social history. I liked the most the first part of the book. Of course it is a bit sketchy as the subject is huge, but there are a lot of interesting facts and you can see that the research has been done for the book.
Someone called it a mixed bag and this is true. However, you have to admire the breadth and scope he attempts to cover. I enjoyed this as a jumping off point to many new avenues of investigation in Russian history, music and art and for that I am grateful.
Elise Noorda
"A Cultural History of Russia" about sums it up. This book looks at the history of Russia through the arts - the influence of Russia's history on the arts and the influence of the arts on Russia's history. Such an interesting perspective.
John Alexander
One of my favorite books. It's written thematically rather than chronologically; typically this would put me off a historical text, but for Figes's purposes it works. (And to be clear, it is roughly chronological, but there is definitely some skipping around in order to fully realize some of the concepts.) It is rife with wonderful trivia, like the story about the Russian aristocrat in St. Petersburg who had so many servants that, in order to have them perform a symphony, rather than teach a gro ...more
Carey Combe
Apart from the stuff on music - which had my head spinning - I totally lived this book. Almost an anthropological as well as a cultural look at Russia. If you love Russian literature you'll love this.
An amazing look into Russian culture with a good spread of lifestyles and social classes. While it is heavy with bias towards the upper classes, it still gives the lower rungs of society the attention the reader needs in order to compare the two. I would have loved to have seen more of the lower class, but the reality is, there was not a lot of change in the daily lives as the decades went by and little documentation. The display of upper class being raised by peasant women as children was very ...more
So, I borrowed this book from the library and between work, life and the deadline to return it, I knew I'd never get it done in time with it being 700+ pages. So, my approach to the book was skim, read, skim... from what I did read I found this to be very informational. Before opening this book, I knew next to nothing about Russian culture. I was surprised that at one point it was discouraged to speak or "act" Russian. I'm glad they eventually found some patriotism. I plan on buying this so I ca ...more
Simply a joy
Liz Polding
A thoroughly enjoyable tour of Russia's cultural history that makes me want to re-read all those Russian novels that I loved so much, especially Tolstoy.
The last chapters convey some of the appalling, bastardised politicism that characterised so much of permitted cultural activity under Lenin and, later, Stalin. Quite a lot of my teenage years were spent in countries in the Eastern Bloc and the prostitution of art to politics interested and repelled me. The use of literature as propaganda, supp
Jacob Aitken
A mixed bag, yet worth reading.

About half this book is quite good, and even where it is bad it fails gloriously. Granted, I was more interested in Figes' take on Holy Russia. He did a fantastic job showing the religious depth of Holy Russia. He explored the fine nuances of the Old Believer schism. He showed remarkable skill in dealing with Dostoevsky. Ah, but...

He really wasn't sympathetic to Holy Russia and it shows. He had problems with the Tsar, and it shows. He tried to make the argument tha
It has been a tour de force getting through this book, but so wonderful and rewarding. Figes covers everything and everyone; at times my lack of real knowledge of Russian history let me down, but as Natasha's Dance renders clearly, Russian culture is so rich and fascinating that there really was no time to get into the whys and wherefores of the Russian revolution and whatnot. (I think I picked up a fair bit of history peripherally from this book anyway). The book is chronological, starting from ...more
Figes begins his discussion of Russian culture with a question – how did the aristocratic Natasha Rostov (in War and Peace) know the dances of the peasantry? He is then able to use this question to explore the idea of a Russian National Cutlure (where the N & the C are my effort to give it some authority). Much as I enjoyed and was engaged by the book it suffers from some real problems, to the extent that I am inclined to agree with Perry Anderson's description of the book as kitsch.

First, i
Celestial Elf
Natascha's Dance by Orlando Figes's is a staggering and well researched panorama of the evolution of Russian culture as expressed in her literature, poetry, plays, music, and art over the centuries.
The book takes its title from a scene in Tolstoy's War and Peace in which the upper-class Natasha Rostov falls instinctively into the rhythms of a peasant dance. Figes employs this scene as a metaphor for his book's central theme which is the conflict between the European cultural ideals of the Arist
David Ranney
'The smell of the Russian earth is different, and such things are impossible to forget . . . A man has one birthplace, one fatherland, one country -- he can only have one country -- and the place of his birth is the most important factor in his life. I regret that circumstances separated me from my fatherland, that I did not give birth to my works here and, above, all, that I was not here to help the Soviet Union create its new music. I did not leave Russia of my own will, even though I dislike
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Orlando Figes is a British historian of Russia, and a professor of history at Birkbeck, University of London.
More about Orlando Figes...
A People's Tragedy: The Russian Revolution: 1891-1924 The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia The Crimean War Just Send Me Word: A True Story of Love and Survival in the Gulag Revolutionary Russia, 1891-1991: A History

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