Book Review: Caught in the Revolution by Helen Rappaport (four stars)

Book Review: Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd, Russia – A World on the Edge by Helen Rappaport (four stars)

“For Philip Chadbourn, that day had been a point of significant and perhaps optimistic transition – ‘the blank between the reels’ – separating ‘the black misery and injustice of the first reel’ and the ‘red revolt and bright heroics of the second’.”

The defining year of the twentieth century. The 1917 Russian revolutions in Petrograd as seen by various westerners, mostly English and American, who witnessed it happen. Uniquely British and American condescension to the plight of the Russian people, even as many of them enjoyed (initially) access to the highest levels of Russian aristocracy.

‘This man Trotzky is the king of agitators; he could stir up trouble in a cemetery.’

Rappaport draws heavily on primary sources to create a history which, while it may have a western bias, will be more accessible and understandable to western readers. Whatever their opinions at the beginning all are convinced their witnessing a really big train wreck by the end of the year. Many are thankful just to get out alive.

Kerensky was ‘more afraid of doing the wrong thing than anxious to do the right one,’ he wrote in his later memoirs, ‘and so he did nothing until he was forced into action by others.’

Like the witnesses, readers are left to discern the motives of the various actors for themselves. Even among the press representatives personal bias weighs as heavily as facts on what they see and report.

‘Russia is a wonderful country, full of lights and shadows, though just now the shadows have the advantage. It is too bad that the world must lose so much that was beautiful in Russia to receive – what? Something much worse than nothing.’