The Story of Memory in a Russian Village
Margaret Paxson
Distribution: World
Publication date: 11/17/2005
ISBN: 978-0-253-00259-4
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Recipient of a 2006 Washington Book Publishers Design and Effectiveness Award
In a small village beside a reed-lined lake in the Russian north, a cluster of farmers has lived for centuries—in the time of tsars and feudal landlords; Bolsheviks and civil wars; collectivization and socialism; perestroika and open markets. Solovyovo is about the place and power of social memory. Based on extensive anthropological fieldwork in that single village, it shows how villagers configure, transmit, and enact social memory through narrative genres, religious practice, social organization, commemoration, and the symbolism of space. Margaret Paxson relates present-day beliefs, rituals, and practices to the remembered traditions articulated by her informants. She brings to life the everyday social and agricultural routines of the villagers as well as holiday observances, religious practices, cosmology, beliefs and practices surrounding health and illness, the melding of Orthodox and communist traditions and their post-Soviet evolution, and the role of the yearly calendar in regulating village lives. The result is a compelling ethnography of a Russian village, the first of its kind in modern, North American anthropology.

Author Bio

Margaret Paxson is Senior Associate at the Kennan Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. She has published articles in the Washington Post Sunday Magazine and the Wilson Quarterly.


". . . a remarkable achievement. . . . the best ethnographic study of Russian country people available today." —Caroline Humphrey, TLS

"The book, based on in-depth participant-observation and interviews in the mid-1990s, presents in arresting imagery the everyday life of a northwestern Russian village the author calls Solovyovo. It paints the kind of memorable tableaux that one might expect from a talented novelist, and in this sense it indeed weaves a kind of story . . . .

Engaged readers. . . will find a great deal of value and subtlety in Paxson's story." —Jennifer Patico, Georgia State University,
AMERICAN ETHNOLOGIST , Vol. 36.3 August 2009

"While Paxson's book explains the memory of landscape of Russian peasants, and by extension Russian culture more generally, I recommend it to anyone interested in human beings and who like to read good books." —
Slavonic and East European Review

". . . would be of great interest to scholars from a wide range of discipines—anthropology, cultural studies, history, and political science. It would be of great value for scholars of Russia and those working on other settings, who are bound to draw rich insight and material for comparative analysis from this important book" —Asia Studies 59:7 (rec'd 1/08)

"What is the opposite of ivory tower? The black earth of Solovyovo, perhaps? Margaret Paxson, a brilliant anthropologist, has gotten her hands—and a lot else besides—dirty in the mud of a Russian village, to the enormous benefit of the readers of her new book. Paxson makes a huge contribution to our knowledge of the Russian village, an ancient human institution whose uniqueness has survived wars and revolutions for centuries. One's sense of Russia will never be quite the same after reading her book." —Robert G. Kaiser, author of Russia: The People and the Power, and Why Gorbachev Happened

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Table of Contents

Iuliia's Hands

Chapter 1: Memory's Topography
Memories as Social Acts
Continuity and Change
Memory as Landscape

Chapter 2: Setting the Village in Space and Time
The Village Question
Solovyovo in Space and Time

Chapter 3: Being "One's Own" in Solovyovo
Introduction: Social Circles
Solovyovo's Sense of Svoi
Basic Economic Organization
On Unevenness: Hierarchy in Solovyovo
Gathering the Other into the Realm of the Self

Chapter 4: Radiance
Introduction: Narrative Landscapes
Svetloe Proshloe: The Radiant Past
Rethinking the Radiant Past

Chapter 5: Wonders
Mir Chudesnogo: The World of Wonders
Wonderous Stories
Political Wonders
"Vse takie, doma luchshe": Anyway, home is best

Chapter 6: Healing
Setting Space Right
Healing, Religion & Magic:
Looking for Transformative Powers
Obrashchenie in Solovyovo
Setting Space Wrong: How Illness Falls
Setting Space Right: Heaviness & Lightness
Fixing the Social Body through "Dobrom Dobro"
Setting Space Right: The Dead, The Rod, Rodina

Chapter 7: The Red Corner
Introduction: Layers of Memory
Krasnyi Ugol: Red and Beautiful Corner
Icons in Corner Space
Misbehaving Icons
Local Khoziaeva in the Corner

Chapter 8: Calendars
Calendrical Topography: The Poetics of Revelry
Calendars in Rural Russia: Confrontations of Time-Space
Memory and Necessity
Gulianki and Il'in Den'
Victory Day and State Remembrance Days
Troitsa and Remembrance Days of the Rodina

On Lightness and Weight