Solovyovo: The Story of Memory in a Russian Village. By Margaret Paxson. Washington, D.C.: Woodrow Wilson Center Press (Editorial). Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press. (Order From). 2005. Pp. 390, introduction, afterword, acknowledgements, terms and phrases, bibliography, index.
In a small village in the woods of northern Russia, memory--stretching across a broad collective landscape functions as the glue binding a culture together over time. Karl Marx wrote, "The tradition of all of the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living." (Quoted in Paxson 2005, 8). Margaret Paxson's Solovyovo: The Story of Memory in a Russian Village, spanning "seventy years of totalitarianism, and the hundreds of years of brutish exploitation," brings that weighty past into the present and shows how memory frames life in a small northern Russian village (346). Diving deeply into her research (17-1/2 pages of bibliography and 10 years of fieldwork) and into the lives and stories of her informants, she produces a text that will appeal to academics and non-academics alike. Paxson mines the memories of the small cluster of farmers that make up Solovyovo, revealing herself as an empathetic researcher. Using in-depth participant observation and interviews, and following an overarching metaphor of "the landscape of memory," she expresses how memory becomes translated and reinscribed across time.
By setting the village of Solovyovo in space and time through the memories of its inhabitants, Paxson shows how social memory is enacted in stories, religious practice, social organization, commemorization, and the symbolism of space.
"Death laced the corners of their stories," she writes (29); this landscape of memory is a view of past events (the return of a soldier, the death of Stalin, the destruction of a church) through present eyes. But also, as Paxson says, memory casts the present into the future to be rendered anew by individual choices and societal changes. Paxson's idea of memory is an act of persistence defining cultural identity.
Through Paxson's extended metaphor of "the landscape of memory," Solovyovo becomes a place of power and social memory spanning the centuries from the tsars and feudal landlords; to Bolsheviks and civil wars; to collectivization and socialism; and to perestroika and open markets. Held in memory and reified in ways of acting socially, we learn that memories are never free from their historical...