After the fall of communism, Russia was in a state of shock. The sudden and dramatic change left many people adrift and uncertain—but also full of a tentative but tenacious hope. Returning again and again to the provincial hinterlands of this rapidly evolving country from 1992 to 2008, Susan Richards struck up some extraordinary friendships with people in the middle of this historical drama. Anna, a questing journalist, struggles to express her passionate spirituality within the rules of the new society. Natasha, a restless spirit, has relocated from Siberia in a bid to escape the demands of her upper-class family and her own mysterious demons. Tatiana and Misha, whose business empire has blossomed from the ashes of the Soviet Union, seem, despite their luxury, uneasy in this new world. Richards watches them grow and change, their fortunes rise and fall, their hopes soar and crash.
Through their stories and her own experiences, Susan Richards demonstrates how in Russia, the past and the present cannot be separated. She meets scientists convinced of the existence of UFOs and mind-control warfare. She visits a cult based on working the land and a tiny civilization founded on the practices of traditional Russian Orthodoxy. Gangsters, dreamers, artists, healers, all are wondering in their own ways, “Who are we now if we’re not communist? What does it mean to be Russian?” This remarkable history of contemporary Russia holds a mirror up to a forgotten people. Lost and Found in Russia is a magical and unforgettable portrait of a society in transition.
On my last day in Saratov I had met a young woman who had a flat in Marx. She had invited me to stay there, “in the unlikely event that you ever come back.” Anna was a local journalist and she had championed the cause of a homeland for Russia’s Germans. We met briefly, in the offices of the city’s only liberal newspaper, where she worked. A tall, gangling young woman, she moved awkwardly, as if her clothes were lined with prickles. Her lively, boyish face was framed by a tonsure of dark hair. She appraised me guardedly from a pair of large brown eyes whose whites were tinged with blue. They sparkled with intelligence. Over meatballs in the paper’s canteen—which poisoned me for a week—she said something intriguing: “I should warn you—do you remember what happened when Gerald Durrell freed the animals in his zoo? He opened their cages and they wouldn’t leave—just sat there and howled. They refused to go back to the jungle and start hunting for food again. Well, that’s us—that’s what we’re like in Marx.” I laughed. But she was not smiling.
Excerpted from Lost and Found in Russia by Susan Richards. Copyright © 2010 by Susan Richards. Excerpted by permission of Other Press, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
“It’s travel as jaw-dropping performance.” —Ben Dickinson, Elle
“Part travelogue, part contemporary history...the real gems Richards uncovers are about the parts of the Russian society and mindset that remained hidden from Western eyes for nearly a century.” —Publishers Weekly
“Richards’ genial snapshots (of ‘Old Believers’ in southern Siberia, and alien sightings at a secret uranium mine) hint at the multifaceted nature of Russian life but her cumulative impressions suggest a country in turmoil, with old and new traditions in headlong collision.” —Financial Times
“For a rich portrait of the new Russia, grab this off the shelf and skip all those biographies of Vladimir Putin.” —Thomas de Waal, Sunday Times (UK)
“Lost and Found in Russia is beautifully written, with arresting images on almost every page. I loved the men lying stiffly on their wooden bunks in the train like toppled statues. It is a travelogue as rich and compelling as a novel and, quite rightly, without a happy ending.” —Lesley Chamberlain, The Independent (UK)
“There is a human optimism that shines out of these hard lives and this loving account of them - an optimism that defies the rational.” —Angus McQueen, The Guardian, Book of the Week
“A patiently crafted glimpse “through a crack in the wardrobe” of the devastation wrought on Russian society during the turbulent post-Communist ‘90s.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Brave, moving and extraordinary. Travelling far beyond the usual travellers’ routes, and often at considerable danger and in great discomfort, Richards has uncovered a world that few of us can begin to imagine.” —Miranda Seymour, The Tablet’s Books of the Year 2009
“Once again, Susan Richards gives a rare and wonderful evocation of ordinary lives in Russia. People fall in love, fall ill, make money, lose money; some are nobly defeated, some shamelessly successful. Each one tells us more about the lethal tides of recent Russian history than years of newspaper reports.” —Philip Marsden, author of The Spirit Wrestlers and The Bronski House