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Review: Lost and Found in Russia, Susan Richards

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, many Russians struggled with identity and with their ever-changing nation. Susan Richards has been to Russia before and goes back just to see how the people she knows are doing, hoping to see what’s happened in modern day Russia. Over the course of 16 years, she visits a variety of towns and cities around Russia, catching up with friends and investigating cults and other Russian legends.

I really wanted to like this book. Really, really wanted to like it. I’m fascinated by Russia (and Russians) – I spent five years learning Russian, picking up plenty of Russian history through both the language and various classes, and only by a sad quirk of fate haven’t visited yet. It’s still a goal. So, this book seemed like it would be perfect. Unfortunately, it really wasn’t, and largely because it didn’t really tell me all that much about modern day Russia. There were a few interesting segments, such as when Susan visits Orthodox communities hidden deep within the Siberian forest, but for the most part, she spends the entire book doing just one thing: visiting her Russian friends.

At the start of the book, it is her mission to travel to one town, Marx, and throughout the book she keeps on returning. She makes friends with people there and spends quite a bit of the book visiting them and getting updates on their progress (or setbacks). In doing so, she does take a peek into modern Russian society – exposing Russians to be just as uncertain as Westerners, ever-uneasy in a world without regulations. Regulations, when they return, are sometimes embraced and sometimes detested. What’s certain is that the levels of freedom have been restricted and the Russian lifestyle is still very volatile. It’s clear to them that anything could happen with their government and they act accordingly.

The problem for me was that I wasn’t necessarily interested in the lives of the same people, over and over again. It was useful for contrast, but I never came to care about any of the people Susan befriended. I found some of their lives much more interesting than others. By far the best parts were when she ventured out of Marx and saw how things were in other parts of Russia; though we can see the changes in Russia through the eyes of those people in Marx, the country is immense. Different perspectives were, for me, very important and helped to round out the overall picture.

What really made me more or less dislike the book was the way it ended. The author doesn’t really sum up her experiences or her thoughts. It just ends. I can see the point of this – after all, life goes on, and these lives are doing just that – but I can’t help but feel I’d have preferred an actual end of some sort. It’s as though she’s going back to visit tomorrow, but this time, we won’t be along with her, seeing things through her eyes.

I’ve read a few varying opinions on Lost and Found in Russia, but while it left me with some lingering things to think about, I overall felt disappointed. I couldn’t recommend it unless you’re very interested in post-Soviet Russia.

I am an Amazon Associate. I received this book for free for review from Netgalley.

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