East of Paris Bookstore

Thursday, August 5, 2010

What we are reading now

Wild fires have been burning in Russia filling the air in the Moscow region with ash.  The wheat crop is in danger, especially in the Nizhny Novgorod region, and grain prices will, no doubt, rise. For more information, see thisthis and this.  The intense heat does not fit the usual stereotypes of Russian ice and cold.  Nonetheless, we are now reading books emphasizing the Russian winter.  

Mr. Wonderful is engrossed in Dominic Lieven's Russia Against Napoleon: The True Story of the Campaigns of War and Peace. This book moves 
past Tolstoy's emphasis on 1812 and provides a sense of Russian campaigns against Napoleon in 1813 in Central Europe and beyond.  The author, Dominic Lieven, is a descendant of some of the Russian generals who fought in these battles.  [Ironically, my family was on both sides of this slice of history -- some fighting with Alexander I and some, like Roman Sołtyk, on the side of Napoleon.] On the lighter side, for those of us who read every Georgette Heyer novel we could find, the name Lieven is not unfamiliar.  Her high quality Regency romances sprinkled facts in the text!

In the meantime, I am equally engrossed in the reprise of the memoirs of Louisa Catherine Adams, wife of John Quincy Adams, our 6th president.  Her father was an American who married an English woman, and Louisa was born in London in 1775.  She spent most of her life abroad and was the only First Lady not born in America.  Due to John Quincy Adams's many diplomatic postings, their son spoke English as his third language. [I can relate to that entirely.] 

Michael O'Brien's book, Mrs. Adams in Winter: A Journey in the Last Days of Napoleon, resurrects and adds texture to Louisa's memoirs of her difficult 40-day journey in 1815 from St. Petersburg to Paris to reunite with the husband, America's Minister to Russia.  She was traveling alone with her young son and servants in winter at the time when Napoleon had escaped from Elba and had not yet been defeated at Waterloo.  

This new and fascinating book about Louisa Adams is not the only book about the tangential relationship between American First Families and Russia. Julia Grant, who was born in the White House in 1876, was the grand-daughter of President Grant and married into an old Russian family thus becoming Princess Cantacuzène, Countess Speransky.  I am lucky to have two of her books: My Life Here and There (published by Charles Scribner's Sons in 1921) and Revolutionary Days (first published in 1920).

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