A wonderfully original book about contemporary Russia as seen on journeys in search of Pushkin, Tolstoy, Lermontov, Chekhov, Gogol and Turgenev.
SHORTLISTED FOR THE EDWARD STANDFORD TRAVEL WRITING AWARD 2020
With the writers of the Golden Age as her guides – Pushkin, Tolstoy, Gogol and Turgenev, among others – Wheeler travels the length and breadth of Russia to make connections between then and now. On the Trans-Siberian railway, at sail on the Black Sea, or while watching television with her hosts in Soviet apartment blocks, Wheeler searches for a Russia not in the news – a Russia of humanity and daily struggles.
At a time of deteriorating relations between Russia and the West, Wheeler gives a voice to the 'ordinary' people of Russia and discovers how the writers of the past continue to represent their country today.
Wheeler’s writing is full of…strong detail; her drily witty sentences snap like sushki, the crunchy sugared bread rings Russians east with their coffee. Mud and Stars is a pleasure to read slowly… her modest, ungrand tour, with its rich map of extraordinary writers and “ordinary” Russians…is far more of an epic than it at first appears.
[A] literary romp in the footsteps of [Russia’s “big beast” 19th-century] writers — which does not skimp on detail or seriousness… I approached this book thinking that it would be — along with Elif Batuman’s The Possessedand Viv Groskop’s The Anna Karenina Fix — the third in a recent hattrick of women’s journeys through Russian literature. Wheeler goes beyond these books by travelling to the backwaters of Russia so that we don’t have to — we can continue to travel in the comfort of our armchair through the pages of the masterpieces that the great writers left behind.
The image many westerners have of Russia is an unflattering one, heavy on totalitarianism and repression. Sara Wheeler offers an important corrective. Part literary criticism, part travelogue, her fascinating book… is as enthusiastic and authoritative a guide as one could wish for.
Well informed and independent-minded… [Mud and Stars is] an intelligent inquiry into the human condition itself… Wheeler is also side-splittingly funny in her breaking of taboos.
Wheeler is a determined traveller, roving well beyond the itinerary of tourist Russia… [she has] an insight into a random sample of contemporary Russians – how they live, what they think. The outcome is a book that is enjoyable and enlightening in equal measure.