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Books

Something old, something new. We thought that we would have a look at what people are buying in the bookshops, and give them a read.
A Lifelong Passion

Nicholas and Alexandra, Their Own Story
Andrei Maylunas and Sergei Mironenko

Nicholas and Alexandra, we know them so well, and yet this collection of their letters and diaries, and of their family, friends and observers, shows how little we know them as people.

They met in 1884 when Nicky was sixteen: "I sat next to little twelve-year-old Alix, whom I really liked a lot." It was the start of a love affair that lasted until the very end: "God bless you, my Treasure, our Children and her! I kiss you all very tenderly. Ever your own, Nicky." (26th February, 1917, one week before the Revolution).

Russian history? What you notice is not how Russian it was, but how English - the English nanny, the trips to 'Granny' at Windsor (Alexandra was the granddaughter of Queen Victoria), Nicholas and Alexandra spoke with, and wrote to, each other in English.

It is all so homely, even as the tsunami of revolution starts to swell, at the Alexander Palace in Tsarskoe Selo they are still taking tea on the lawn, Alexandra is nursing her sick children, and when she has time, helping her husband with his career - running an empire, with one telephone.

Nicholas is very much as history has portrayed him - likeable, good-natured, a family man - all the qualities not suited for the profession of Emperor. Alexandra is the surprise here, history has condemned her as cold, haughty, so 'Victorian,' but not in these letters: as a young girl, "Oh, lovy, had I but got you with me, I want you too badly - a mad longing takes hold of me" (1894), and as a middle-aged woman with five children, "Your Wify, to who you are ALL in ALL." (1916)

Tragedy, history, romance, this is an indispensable book to add to your Russian library.

(London: Harper Collins, 2004) 644 pp, 859 roubles
Available at Bookberry, 17, Nikitskiy Bulvar., M. Arbatskaya, Tel: (095) 291 83 03

Privet iz Moskvy

Moscow in Old Postcards 1895 - 1917

Philocartia? I had to look it up in my dictionary: "The collecting of cards." But the very learned authors of this interesting coffee-table book also tell us that 'cartophilia' and 'deltiology' can be used to describe their passion.

And passionate they certainly are; for them old illustrated postcards "combine the indisputable authenticity of historical documents, contain material evidence of the epoch, and reflect the warmth and sincerity of human feelings and emotions, while possessing the qualities of true works of art."

And "Unlike contemporary examples, the variety of styles and the figurative and compositional techniques employed in old postcards are amazing." Agreed, but although there is much to enjoy about the aesthetic qualities of old postcards, if you live in Moscow no doubt you will be buying this book and looking to see how much the city has changed, or not changed. The old Cathedral of the Saviour looks exactly the same as the new one (as it should); much has been destroyed - the old Prague restaurant, the Church of the Assumption on Pokrovka, the Monument to Emperor Alexander II in the Kremlin, it is a long list.

If you think that collecting postcards is a minority passion then think again because postcards are hot collectibles; the market is now so sophisticated that they are graded - from Category 1 at $50 to $60, to Category 6 at $5 to $6. Value is dependent upon the subject matter (images of the Romanovs are at a premium) and condition. It is still possible to find interesting cards at very low prices, and if you are looking to become an art collector, how about postcards?

(Moscow: Magma, 2004),128 pp, 870 roubles
Available at Biblio Globus, 6/3 Myasnitskaya, Bldg. 5, M. Lubyanka, Tel: (095) 924 4680





© 2005 Jeremy Noble