Sometimes you are just going along in your life when something new comes your way and little do you know that a new path, a new interest will eventually take you somewhere you really never thought of going before. For me, that something new was a book and my new path led me to Russia.
The first Russian book I owned was Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. But this wasn’t THE book. I most likely bought this book because I wanted to read one of literature’s classics. I don’t remember buying it. I just remember it being thick, descriptive, with lots of notes in the back and way too many diminutive names to remember. I know that I finished the book in the summer of 2004 when Oprah had it as one of her book club books and I know, somehow, that it took four years to complete, so by counting backwards I must have bought the book in 2000. This book was abandoned about an eighth of the way through and six months in.
It wasn’t until some time between six months and four years when I was perusing the rather pitiful travel narrative section of a bookstore that I found THE book that would lead me in a new direction. The book was Metro Stop Dostoevsky: Travels in Russian Time by Ingrid Bengis. This book I devoured. I remember being transported to this place and time I had never been nor knew much about and being spellbound by Ms. Bengis’s storytelling. My first peek at a modern Russia compared to Anna’s.
From here I really got into the Romanovs and the Anastasia conspiracies of her surviving her family’s murder in 1918. I read both historical fiction and non-fiction of their kidnapping and murder with some pretty flimsy writing on the conspiracies mixed in.
Then I decided to give Anna Karenina another shot. And four years after I started the book, I finished. Anna’s storyline was far from my favorite as I found her rather annoying, but I was captivated by Levin’s story. And, sadly, I had found out the ending prior to getting there myself. But, I enjoyed the book and took pride in completing my first major piece of Russian literature. War and Peace here I come – ha!
Russia, prior to all this, had been the team the US beat in the ‘Miracle on Ice’ and had produced an ice-cold machine of a contender in my favorite of the ‘Rocky’ film franchise (gotta love the blatant, in-your-face Cold War commentary in that film). It was now a place of such rich culture and history.
Russia wasn’t really on my travel radar as in I never actually thought I’d go there. Why not, I’m not sure. But then when I was in London studying for my Masters, mere months after finishing Anna Karenina, I came across an opportunity to go to St. Petersburg and Moscow for a week over my term break. I couldn’t pass that up.
The process to get into Russia was definitely a process and is another post on its own. And once I got there – wow – it was amazing (again another post)! There I was in a country I never thought I’d ever visit nor thought I’d be fascinated by and loving it. All thanks to a book.