From Russia With Love

British scholar and writer of Magic Lantern: A Journey into Russian History, Rachel Polonsky speaks to Sonakshi Babbar.
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Updated on Jan 24, 2011 01:46 AM IST
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Hindustan Times | BySonakshi Babbar, Jaipur

An apartment block on Romanov Lane, Russia, is supposedly haunted by the ghosts of the Russian Revolution - the erstwhile residence of Stalin's top henchman, Vyacheslav Molotov. This modest house was once home to the Bolsheviks, the same house from which Trotsky was once dragged down the stairs from the staircase and sent into exile.

When a British scholar named Rachel Polonsky moved in this apartment for academic work, little did she know that her short stay in the Russian capital would turn into a decade. As she sieved through remnants of Molotov's library, paintings and diaries, she discovered a magic photographic lantern which still had some old slides in it, which became the inspiration for her novel - Magic Lantern: A Journey into Russian History.

"I began my adventures looking through the slides, books, and a chance discovery of re-discovering the life of a history through chance encounters with a great political figure in the form of Moltov," said Polonsky, in conversation at the Jaipur Literature Festival.

As she tunneled deeper into the life of this man, she discovered the complexity of his character, "He was a dedicated bibliophile, reader of not just politics but also Dostovesky. 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 twentieth century," explains Polonsky. "The more I read about him the less I understood how a person could have been capable of putting ideals over people."

Expressing the experience of reading Molotov's book she says, "When you hold in your hands books which have been read by someone who is himself a historical figure and has been written about, you wonder what books meant to him and feel an intimate connection."

Voicing her anxieties about 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."

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