Thanks to the ‘heads up’ of Marian Beil (Ethiopia 1962-64)
IN PUTIN’S FOOTSTEPS: Searching for the Soul of an Empire Across Russia’s Eleven Time Zones
St. Martin’s Press
By Nina Khrushcheva and Jeffrey Tayler (Morocco 1988-90)
February 19, 2019
$18.89 (hardback); $14.99 (Kindle); $24.60 (Audio CD)
From the Book Section of The New York Times Summer Travel
Nina Khrushcheva and Jeffrey Tayler’s fascinating account of their travels in 2017 between Kamchatka and Kaliningrad. In its pages, you’ll learn that you can see China quite clearly from Russia in the harbor city of Blagoveshchensk, six time zones east of Moscow and 500 yards across the Amur River from the Chinese city of Heihe. Ferries transport Chinese and Russian traders back and forth daily. Khrushcheva made that shuttle trip and does not recommend it — the pushing and shoving and rude border control brought her to tears.
Khrushcheva (a granddaughter of Nikita Khrushchev), who teaches at the New School (as do I, though we’ve never met), collaborated with Tayler, an American journalist who lives in Moscow and is married to a Russian, to write this book. They were inspired by a suggestion Vladimir Putin floated during the first year of his presidency: that he should fly across the Russian Federation one New Year’s Eve, making pit stops at midnight local time in all 11 time zones to “show our nation’s greatness, our riches, the diversity of our Mother Russia, our unity, our worth.” The authors sample that diversity and report back. Exploring dozens of points along the 6,000-mile-long Trans-Siberian Railway and beyond, they find contemporary evidence of a revival of national pride, not unmixed with habitual Slavic cynicism and resignation. As one contemporary joke they cite goes, “Before you make fun of children who believe in Santa Claus, please remember that there are people who believe that the president and the government take care of them.”
The double-headed eagle, a czarist symbol suppressed during Soviet times, now replaces the Communist red star in many city squares, along with cult-of-personality-style portraits of Putin. The triumphant cry “Crimea is ours!,” referring to Putin’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, met the authors in many places, reflecting, they thought, “feelings of insecurity and superiority all at once.” Their book delivers a unified impression of a “coherently incoherent” Russia. They bring fresh eyes to cities that usually get too little attention and share fascinating revelations. Who knew that the city of Yakutsk held the world’s only woolly mammoth museum, or that its icy river Lena inspired the young Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov to mint his nom de révolution, Lenin? They knew.
A contributing editor at The Atlantic and the New York Times Notable author of Facing the Congo, Angry Wind, and River of No Reprieve among others, Jeffrey Tayler ( has reported on Russia and the former Soviet Union for Foreign Policy, Harper’s Magazine, Conde Nast Traveler, National Geographic, and more. He lives in Moscow.
Nina Khrushcheva is the author of Imagining Nabokov and The Lost Khrushchev, and a Professor of International Affairs at New School University, and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Her work has appeared in Newsweek, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times among others.