With the Pussy Riot trials, the Winter Olympics, rampant homophobia and most recently the invasion of Ukraine, Russia has been very much in the public eye as of late. Many questions are being raised about the role Russia will play in the future with regards to its ability to trade, its power status and the effect all of this will have on international relations.
The Last Man in Russia provides an insight into this vast country’s recent political history, as well as its current political and social problems, by exploring the life of dissident Orthodox priest Father Dimitry. Author Oliver Bullough takes the reader on a long and difficult journey through Russia on his quest for information about Father Dimitry and everything he stood for. At the same time he paints a frank and telling picture of the Russia of today, its people, and the alcoholism epidemic that is killing the nation at a startling rate.
Informative yet full of emotion and insight, Bullough engages the reader with the play-by-play of his adventure whilst also providing a moving account of the nation’s incredible suffering. This book brings it all to life – imagine being imprisoned in a sub-zero tundra camp just for writing a poem, feel the anxiety of a people who trusted no one and sense the desperation of a starved population stripped of every right.
Russia is a nation that is still trying to break away from its dark and painful past, and Bullough does find glimmers of hope, but there is also the need to remember those who suffered and not allow them to be swept under the carpet by those who would prefer to present a rose-tinted version of events.
Reviewed by Francesca Bassenger. Images courtesy of Penguin.
In England, ‘Black History Month’ is October. In America and Canada, it’s February. While I understand the sentiment behind it, it seems wrong to me that the history of an entire race is generally ignored (especially in schools) and then one month a year comments are made on The Civil Rights Movement and the end of slavery.
This month is supposed to to not only correct the spread of propaganda about Africans in the old days, but also highlight the journey of the African peoples.
The focus on the persecution of Africans by other races simply alienates people of other races. Who among us is willing to listen to a month-long lament about how their ancestors persecuted their friends’ ancestors? It’s hardly the brightest topic to bring up over lunch.
Don’t get me wrong, while these events were tragic and condemnable in every sense, they don’t define Africa. In the end they simply contribute to a wholly inaccurate image of Africans, and people of African decent, as eternally victimised or claiming to be. This in turn breeds hostility from all sides. I suggest that African history should be seen for what really is. When people think of where this continent has been, they should think of the greatness of the Empires that have come and gone.
They should think of the architecture ancient civilisations left us such as the Empire that was Kemet (aka Egypt), the Kingdom of Meroë and the Kingdom that was Great Zimbabwe. Of the evolution of African culture and of the diversity shown in the 3000 languages on this continent.
People should remember the advancement of knowledge in science, mathematics and medicine in the ancient Mali Kingdom, and marvel at the wealth of the West African Kingdoms (like Ghana) that were practically swimming in gold and other minerals.
We should also remember the crazy characters that ran some of these Kingdoms like Mansa Musa of Mali, or his brother who abdicated the throne and supposedly sailed to America. The world should never forget the incredible Kingdoms like Axum, a trade powerhouse that was amongst the first to mint its own currency and influenced trade routes between the Roman Empire, Asia and the Middle-East.
Of course, Africa has also had its fair share of blood-shed, pointless wars, inhumane behaviour, and questionable ideologies. We’re talking about thousands of years’ worth of history here…
Contrary to popular belief, slavery was already a practised trade in Africa, it was not introduced by the Western world. Europe simply catalysed its explosion to the biggest business for centuries. Towards the end of slavery came the ‘Scramble for Africa’ which was the advent of colonialism on this continent.
The colonialism of Africa was a gruesome, tragic, filthy period in human history. But after colonialism came independence, and Africa has been on the road to prosperity ever since. Progress may be slower in some countries than others but they are all heading the same direction.
There are so many unresolved issues from the past that still haunt Africa, and this continent of 3000 tribes is still figuring things out. One thing is for sure though, Africa’s past is greatness and its future is greatness too.
In Africa we don’t celebrate ‘Black History Month’ because, as Africans, African history is simply history. In the Western world, it’s slightly more complicated because of the immense diversity of people there. Nevertheless, the separation of Black history from the everybody else’s history doesn’t make the elimination of separatist and racist attitudes any easier.
Written by Irene Kyomuhangi. Photography © futureatlas.com