Customer Reviews of WAKING THE TEMPESTS: Ordinary Life in the New Russia
Excellent - A window into the chaos of the "new" Russia
I happened to be going through books at work when I came upon this particular one; I'm a self-professed "Russia-freak", so it seemed the type of thing that would be just up my alley.
Randolph and her husband are both journalists, and lived in the USSR/Russia from 1991 to 1993. Instead of living almost completely in the "second society" of newly rich and expatriates that Matthew Brzezinski describes in his book "Casino Moscow", or being almost completely on one's own as in Lori Cidlyo's book "All the Clean Ones Are Married", Randolph manages to pull off a fine balance between the two. This balance is maintained in Randolph's writing as well. She's a Western journalist coming to write about "everyday" Russia, and she tries hard to get the real story. One of the things that impressed me is that, although she used a translator, it was more to make sure that what she was reporting was accurate. There is at least one point in the book where she mentions about her translator not translating a certain question to her liking. Most Western reporters would have no clue if this were to happen, and I think it seriously limits our view of the world.
Randolph tackles a different subject as it pertains to the Russia she experienced in the book. There's one about the problems with housing, and attitudes toward private ownership (especially of land), as well as chapters about religion, cults, women's issues, homosexuals, the state of the arts (case in point: ballet), as well as others. What is impressive is the time she took to track people down and have serious interviews with them, rather than be satisfied with fluff pieces that could be easily made into simple anecdotes or pieces to feed into current stereotypes of Russia.
When reading this book, one can think that the conditions in Russia are unfathomably bad. However, it's not like the Russians can stop living because life there is crazy. Randolph starts the book with a story about her returning home one grey winter's day. She looks up and is struck by the beauty of a blazing light in the distance, and after a moment realizes that it is the reflection of the last rays of the sun on the golden crosses of a church. She compares this experience with her stay in Russia. As horrible as a lot of life there seems, there is something there that is enduring and beautiful. This is the sense that I came away with after finishing this book. I only wish that it was a little bit more current, as much has happened in Russia even after her last interviews in 1995.
Fascinating but very long
I listened to the book on tape, the narration was excellent. What I particularly liked was that this book was about ordinary life in Russia, rather than the political situation. Lots of bleak description on all sorts of aspects of Russian life during the years following the fall of the Soviet Union. Fascinating, very long, and rather depressing.
The Right Place at the Right Time
This book is an in-depth report of Russian society at the transition between the communist and capitalist state. Randolph arrived in the Soviet Union in the spring of 1991, and remained in Moscow for three more years. An experienced journalist on assignment for The Washington Post, she was in an ideal position to observe conditions and the lives of ordinary Russians in the communist and post-communist era. Over the course of her stay, Randolph observed many aspects of society, and divides her book into chapters by topic, including: women, marriage and family life, children, education, health and sickness, the arts, and crime.
Randolph was fluent in Russian, but still used the services of interpreters when conducting interviews because she wanted to catch every detail, every nuance of what was said. Indeed, some of the chapters seem to go on and on with detail. But most of the material is quite fascinating. We learn how couples used to have to wait for years to get apartments of their own, and then how apartments could be had instantaneously, for a price, or how people who had lived in the same apartments for decades were bilked out of their homes due to gullibility from having spent a lifetime in a welfare state. Randolph discusses health in great detail, providing not only mortality statistics, but also interviews with leading figures in the Russian health care system--and interviews with some stars of the new alternative health care enterprises.
Having run in to a few too many shady characters from Russia in the past few years, I must admit that I was a little dubious about finding any good news from this part of Eastern Europe. But Randoph's stories of the human side of history that is unfolding in Russia helped me feel much more sympathetic towards average Russians and all that they have lived through. She demonstrates that Russians come in many types, and the vast majority of them are struggling to learn what they need to do in order to survive in a world that has turned upside down. While it is true that some are despicable villains, for every villain there are many more heroes doing their best to make lives better for themselves, their families, and their country. This book is extremely valuable for the snapshot it provides of Russian life at such an incredible juncture in time.