Echoes of a Native Land: Two Centuries of a Russian Village

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Tracing the lives of his Russian forebears, Serge Schmemann, Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign correspondent for the New York Times tells a remarkable story that spans the past two hundred years of Russian history. First, he draws on a family archive rich in pictorial as well as documentary treasure to bring us into the pre-revolutionary life of the village of Sergiyevskoye (now called Koltsovo), where the spacious estate of his mother's family was the seat of a manor house as vast and imposing as a grand hotel. ...
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Echoes of a Native Land: Two Centuries of a Russian Village

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Overview

Tracing the lives of his Russian forebears, Serge Schmemann, Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign correspondent for the New York Times tells a remarkable story that spans the past two hundred years of Russian history. First, he draws on a family archive rich in pictorial as well as documentary treasure to bring us into the pre-revolutionary life of the village of Sergiyevskoye (now called Koltsovo), where the spacious estate of his mother's family was the seat of a manor house as vast and imposing as a grand hotel. Diary entries record the social breakdown step by step: grievances going unresolved, the government foundering, the status quo of rural life overcome by revolutionary fervor. Soon we see the estate brutally collectivized, the church torn apart brick by brick, the manor house burned to the ground. Some of the family are killed in the fighting; others escape into exile; one writes to his kin for the last time from the Gulag. The Soviet era is experienced as a time of privation, suffering, and lost illusions. The Nazi occupation inspires valorous resistance, but at great cost. Eventually all that remains of Sergiyevskoye is an impoverished collective. Without idealizing the tsarist past or wholly damning the regime that followed, Schmemann searches for a lost heritage as he shows how Communism thwarted aspiration and initiative. Above all, however, his book provides for us a deeply felt evocation of the long-ago life of a corner of Russia that is even now movingly beautiful despite the ravages of history and time.
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Editorial Reviews

Michael Ignatieff
...[T]hat rare achievement: a Russian memoir that subverts the conventions of the genre and tells us, in clear, elegant and understated prose, that you can't go home again.
New YorkTimes Book Review
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Writing on a scale that encompasses an imperial ball and the last lowering of the Soviet flag over the Kremlin, Schmemann has produced a saga of majestic proportions. Researching his Russian ancestry, the former Moscow bureau chief for the New York Times made many visits to the village of Sergiyevskoye (now named Koltsovo), 90 miles south of Moscow, onetime county seat of his mother's family, the Osorgins. The manor house has long since burned down, but elderly villagers remember the family, either firsthand or by legend, and Schmemann found sufficient documents in archives to satisfy himself, and his readers, about the integrity of his reconstruction. Sergiyevskoye is described as a "spiritual sanatorium" in the diary of one visitor to the manse the family was ordered to vacate by the local Bolsheviks in 1918. Ultimately, the Osorgins settled in Paris in 1931, where the author's parents met. The family bought the estate in 1843 and, never indolent, filled various civic posts; the author's great-grandfather Mikhail Mikhalych, for example, was governor of Tula, and other relatives served in the Guards at the Imperial Court. Reclaiming his family, Schmemann relates the history of Russia as well, czarist and communist. That a descendant of Sergiyevskoye should become its historian provides a certain symmetry to these pages, and echoes Pushkin: "It smells of Russia here." Photos. (Oct.)
Michael Ignatieff
...[T]hat rare achievement: a Russian memoir that subverts the conventions of the genre and tells us, in clear, elegant and understated prose, that you can't go home again.
The New YorkTimes Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
Russia's chaotic but captivating past and present come together in this perceptive narrative of one family's estate and the village life surrounding it. Inspired by his grandfather's descriptions of its natural beauty and the agreeable life there, Schmemann, a Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times correspondent, visited the ruins of Sergiyevskoye (the village is now called Koltsovo), the site of his ancestral estate 90 miles south of Moscow. At first he wanted only "to catch the echoes of a native land." But the journalist's connection with Koltsovo deepened as he came to regard the village as his unique window onto Russian life through the centuries. Schmemann relates the estate's history from its origins in the late 18th century through its purchase by one of his ancestors, a member of the Osorgin family, during a game of cards. Tales of daily life at the estate are mingled with an ongoing narrative of Russian history, customs, village life, political trends, and family lore. Readers come to know individual members of the Osorgin family as well as the current generation of Koltsovo villagers, who make a particularly striking impression. From this rich mélange the reader takes away two central themes: the Osorgin family's deep and lasting religious faith and the tenacity of the Russian peasant. Schmemann movingly recreates the harmonious and spiritual life that characterized the Osorgin family and the inspiration they drew from the beautiful natural setting of their estate on the Oka River. Peasant life, on the other hand, was predictable only in its suffering and endurance: "These people had survived serfdom, reform, revolution, and war; they had known despoticand benign barons." And yet they are still there, doing their best to survive under the current regime. Schmemann succeeds where others haven't by refusing to idealize the past and by bringing to his subject an empathy that, perhaps, is his own claim to the Osorgins' spiritual heritage.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679438106
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/15/1997
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Pages: 350
  • Product dimensions: 6.64 (w) x 9.58 (h) x 1.33 (d)

Meet the Author

Serge Schmemann has served as the New York Times bureau chief in Moscow, Bonn, and now Jerusalem. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 1990 for his reporting on the reunification of Germany. Born in France to a family of Russian émigrés, he came to the United States in 1951 and was raised here. He and his wife have three children.

From the Hardcover edition.

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