Sara Wheeler

Mud and Stars
  • Mud and Stars

  • There is a literal Russian landscape, and there is its emotional, literary counterpart. In Mud and Stars, award-winning writer Sara Wheeler sets out to explore both.

    With the writers of the Golden Age as her guides – Pushkin, Tolstoy, Gogol and Turgenev, among others – Wheeler travels across eight time zones, from rinsed north-western beetroot fields and far-eastern Arctic tundra to the cauldron of ethnic soup that is the Caucasus. She follows nineteenth-century footsteps to make connections between then and now: between the places where flashing-epauletted Lermontov died in the aromatic air of Pyatigorsk, and sheaves of corn still stand like soldiers on a blazing afternoon, just like in Gogol’s stories. On the Trans-Siberian railway in winter she crunches across snowy platforms to buy dried fish from babushki, and in summer she sails the Black Sea where dolphins leapt in front of violet Abkhazian peaks. She also spends months in fourth-floor 1950s apartments, watching television with her hosts, her new friends bent over devices and moaning about Ukraine.

    At a time of deteriorating relations between Russia and the West, Wheeler searches for a Russia not in the news – a Russia of humanity and daily struggles. She gives voice to the ‘ordinary’ people of Russia, and discovers how the writers of the Golden Age continue to represent their country today.

Sara Wheeler’s books include the international bestseller Terra Incognita: Travels in Antarctica, of which the Telegraph reviewer wrote, ‘I do not think there will ever be a better book on the Antarctic.’ The Magnetic North: Notes from the Arctic Circle, was chosen as Book of the Year by Will Self, Michael Palin, A. N. Wilson and others. She has published two biographies of travellers: Cherry: A Life of Apsley Cherry-Garrard, and Too Close to the Sun: The Life and Times of Denys Finch Hatton, and was immensely relieved to write about women at last in O My America!. She lives in London.