An apartment block on Romanov Lane in Moscow is apparently haunted by the ghosts of the 1917 Russian Revolution. This was the erstwhile residence of one of Soviet leader Josef Stalin’s top henchmen, Vyacheslav Molotov, the same house from which Leon Trotsky was once dragged down the stairs and sent into exile.
When British scholar Rachel Polonsky moved into this apartment for research, little did she know that her ‘short stay’ in Moscow will turn into a decade. As she pored over the remnants of Molotov’s library, paintings and diaries, she discovered a magic lantern with some old slides still attached in it. This discovery would become the inspiration for her book Magic Lantern: A Journey into Russian History.
“He was a dedicated bibliophile, reader of not just politics, but also Dostovesky,” says Polonsky. “Molotov considered himself a cultured man, which in itself is a paradox as he was an accessory to some of the most brutal mass murders of the 20th century. The more I read about him, the less I understood how a person could have been capable of putting ideals over people.”
Voicing her anxieties about contemporary Russia’s social and political fabric, Polonsky says, “Who hasn’t heard of the Russian billionaires and the Russian peasants. What is missing in between is the middle class. People are waiting for a real middle class — property-owning, with a stake in the building of society.”