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David Greene
Midnight in Siberia: A Train Journey into the Heart of Russia
W. W. Norton & Company
US Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 978-0-393-23995-9
Publication Date: 10-20-2014
336 Pages; $26.95

Date Reviewed: 11-16-2014
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2014

Index Non-Fiction  

David Greene's 'Midnight in Siberia: A Train Journey into the Heart of Russia' is a subtle triumph of showing, not telling, on two levels. The characters he crafts in his engaging and entertaining travelogue arrive early and often. We're right there with him, from page to person without a hint of his writerly skills. He simply puts us in his shoes and theirs with fewest, smartest, craftiest words he can find. And what a cast! This is people watching at its finest.

But all the while something else is happening as well. As we get to know "Aunt Nina," Sergei, his translator, the son of the creator of the AK47, singers, a kid hawking space rocks from a meteor strike, Greene's episodes craft for readers another character; Russia itself.

By showing us the country from the ground up – he took that train for a reason – Greene builds for his readers a new Russia. Forget the headlines and the celebrity (there's really only one). Greene makes it clear to his readers that Russia is not simply a country of threats, bluster and crackdowns. Greene's talent for showing us character quickly begins to reveal the character of the country.

At every turn, Greene is there with us, for us. He lets his characters speak for themselves, and in so doing create a rather different vision of Russia than one might presume. Few of us can afford to travel as Greene does; his experience as a reporter for NPR gives him an easy air of access. He already knew the country he sought to portray, and happily as he did so, he clearly learned a lot more. His ability to put us there easily is a triumph of the quiet, thoughtful observer. 'Midnight in Siberia' is about much more than a single moment in a single place. Our world hangs in the balance.

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