Russia—Land and Water
Russian Waters. By Nicholas Polunin. (Arnold. 10s. &I.)
Fon some reason, it does not seem possible to write a dull book
about Russia. M. -Korostovetz' style, at any rate in trans- lation, is on the prosaic side : Mr. Polunin's is lively : yet both books are equally interesting. M. Korostovetz ended his university days in the first decade of the century : Mr. Polunin is still in residence at Oxford. Yet the two books have more in common than could be expected. It must be the influence of Russia.
Seed and Harvest is the bigger book, and covers by far the greater period of time. Mr. Polunin records a voyage on an Oxford long vacation : Mr. Korostovetz follows the years froht the turn of the century till after the end of the War. The seed was the attitude of the aristocracy to the peasants : the harvest was the revolution. When little more than a child the author discovered, at a fire, the real feelings of the pea- sants : and the shock was never forgotten. It is an extraordi- nary picture he gives us, of a people servile and ignorant, given up to all manner of brutalities, cheated, bullied, duped, not knowing which way to turn : fathers piercing their sons' ear- drums with iron spikes, to exempt them from military service : villages without medical aid ; pogroms, battles ; and, on every other page, incidents .so fantastic that only their improbability makes them credible.
" Michael Komarovsky was a landowner of about eighty years of ago . . . He kept a large number of servants . . . he had also a tame bear. This bear was, like her master, fond of fun, and her favourite trick was to sit in the hall and wait for visitors. When anyone came, she would stand up on her hind legs and take the visitor's hat and coat off. On one occasion this game proved expensive, when the new chief of the rural police came to pay his respects to Komarovsky. When Marfa, the bear, rushed at him, the man fled. The bear gave chase, and bah ran across the froze►, fields ; but all the bear wanted was to take the visitor's hat and coat. After they had run for .about three versts,.the policeman managed to pull out his pistol and wounded Marfa in the leg. After this, Komarovsky all but killed the policeman."
Many times the space at our disposal would be needed even
to indicate the contents of this book. It is divided into two main parts, the period up to the Revolution and the period after it. The author's escape, with his wife and brothers (one was killed) is as exciting as could be wished. Seed and Harms! has a fullness of detail, and an objective, unemotional manner of recording, which makes it invaluable as a guide to recent Russian history.
Mr. Polunin, after going with other members of the Oxford Exploration Club to Northern Lapland, decided that he needed a holiday. His idea of one was to sign on as deck hand on a British timber boat bound for the White Sea. He reached Russia, managed to land, and to get away just in time to return to Oxford. He kept a diary from day to day on odd scraps of paper. Russian Waters is the diary. Mr. Polunin is not exact- ing in his holiday requirements.
- So our food was pretty awful that day. For breakfast potatoes .and horribly salt rissoles made from red; stringy salt beef. Lunch was potatoes and- beans and salt beef -again, and. no. sweet.- And tea was a soupy mese containing a few shreds of onion. By the evening the rain had become fairly heavy and almost continuous. We spent most of the time chipping the handline in the starWard bunker, Using candles---yellow tallow coal-trimming candleti4tihey were."
Quite apart from the interest of its matter, Russian Waters revealsexcellent observation, a vied pen, and no small per- sOnal courage in its author. NO one interested in Russia should miss Se-4 and Harvest ; Mr. Polunin's book has wider claims.