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Reading, Looking, Listening, . . . Questioning

Culture and History Matter

Categories: Tucker Cox, ZiR

“Culture and history matter, values and traditions endure,” writes David Greene. David Greene, author of Midnight in Siberia: A Train Journey into the Heart of Russia (W.W. Norton, 2014)
In his travelogue, Midnight in Siberia: A Train Journey into the Heart of Russia, Greene shares a mature understanding and affinity for an enigmatic country.

How can Russians accept the harsh reality they live in—a country with low life expectancy, rampant health problems, gaping inequality, and a dwindling population? What is holding people back? Is it fear? Fatigue? Fatalism? Public apathy? An innocent but false belief in country? A paternalistic faith that leaders are there to protect you? Or, most likely, a recipe of all these ingredients—a recipe written by the czars, cooked for generations, and infused so deeply in Russians that they would struggle to exist without… Spend enough time there, and for all the pain you witness, you don’t want to leave.

The Trans-Siberian is the granddaddy of all railroad trips, some 6,000 miles from Moscow to Vladivostok. Green captures the experience, at once mundane, at once compelling:

You develop a routine. Morning, wake up… use the hot water canister to make instant coffee… Return for more hot water at lunchtime to make tea and instant noodles. Read, chat with passengers. In the evening, venture to the dining car for borscht… Visit a neighbor in his or her compartment and wash the night away with vodka.

Mr. Greene concludes:

I just stood there, gazing into this vast, white Siberian landscape… I felt melancholy, this feeling that Russians are living in some sad darkness, unable to see the future that could await them if they only fought harder. And yet something about the poetry of the place, the pain people have been through, the laughter and strength and kindness from so many I’ve met, all made me want to smile.


— Tucker Cox, Zeteo contributing writer


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