The Shadow of the Winter Palace

I can think of no better place to go to understand the current war in Russia than “The Shadow of the Winter Palace” by Edward Crankshaw. In miniscule detail Crankshaw delves into the minutiae and characters and twists and turns of Russia during the fading years of the Romanovs. From the December Revolution to the October Revolution – one hundred years of Russian history, covering the reigns of Alexander I, II and II and Nicolas I and II.

War and revolt. That is what the years of the 1800s meant to Russia. Unlike in England during which those same years saw the first and second industrial revolutions that placed the U.K. as the foremost economy of the world, and built the engine that powered her empire; for Russia that 100 years was a story of the attempts of the tsars to hold onto despotic power, absolute, limitless and without nuance. Against the desperation of the peasants seeking to find a way to be free and to live better lives. And against the efforts of other empires to contain Russia’s attempts at dominion. Wars with the Ottomans and the Austrians and the Germans and the French and the English and the Sicilians and the Persians and the Japanese. 20 years of peace, that’s all that the reformers asked for – but the Tsars would not oblige. The future of Russia would be determined through violence.

We don’t really recognize, in the west, the power of ancient Russia. It was unquestionably the most powerful country in the world – limitless wealth, endless waves of peasant-warriors, territory that never ended, from the Sea of Japan to the Baltic. Size and power, lost in the mists of the north and the deep winter cold Siberia, unknowing and infinitely mystical, awe-inspiring and fearful. But wondrous, exemplified in perfection by the Romanov Tsars, the most wealthy and powerful royal family that Europe ever saw.

Putin’s war is just an extension of this. Stalin inherited the Russian empire at its largest, most powerful state. If one was to consider the Warsaw Pact, Russia’s soviet empire reached from Ulaanbaatar to Warsaw. Putin, by contrast, has inherited Russia at its smallest since perhaps Peter the Great started building. Putin is seeking to build back the empire; and in the spirit of Russia’s hapless rulers, who ranged from detached to wicked, he is willing to sacrifice the peasants for his idea of Russia. And that isn’t new either.

About Joel D. Hirst

Joel D. Hirst is a novelist and a playwright. His most recently released work is "Dreams of the Defeated: A Play in Two Acts" about a political prisoner in a dystopian regime. His novels include "I, Charles, From the Camps" about the life of a young man in the African camps and "Lords of Misrule" about the making and unmaking of a jihadist in the Sahara. "The Lieutenant of San Porfirio" and its sequel "The Burning of San Porfirio" are about the rise and fall of socialist Venezuela (with magic).
This entry was posted in Book Review and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The Shadow of the Winter Palace

  1. Pingback: Reviewing “A Hero of Our Time” | Joel D. Hirst's Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s