A memoir from Russia’s bubble of freedom in the pre-Putin era.
Michelle Carter at age fifty, married and the mother of two children in their early twenties, left her job as managing editor of a suburban daily newspaper in the San Francisco Bay area in 1995 to move to Russia for a year as a United States Information Agency Journalist-in-Residence. There she traveled across the eleven time zones of this complex country, working with newspaper editors who struggled to adapt to the new concepts of press freedom and a market economy.
She became an on-the-scene witness to the second great Russian revolution. She viewed Russia from her flat on the embankment of the Moscow River and from her sometimes humorous shoulder-to-shoulder participation in the life of the largest country in the world. At the same time, she embarked on a personal journey that wrenched her life in a way she could never have anticipated when she accepted her husband’s challenge to take this assignment and culminate her eight years of work and travel in the former Soviet Union.
1. How is a memoir different from journalism in which the author made her career? Both genres are true, but a memoir falls into a category called literary non-fiction. Can you recall some examples where the narrative transcends journalism?
2. The author writes in great detail about events that happened more than twenty years ago. Does that add depth and detail or does it cause you to suspend belief?
3. The author was a fifty-year-old American woman living and traveling alone in Moscow. What kind of issues does that raise in you as a reader? Was she brave, foolhardy or perhaps just lucky?
4. The author writes that the Russian press was flowering in that post-Soviet, pre-Putin bubble of freedom. How does that contrast with your understanding of the current situation Russia?
5. The author shares her indecision about going back to Russia after her husband died? Can you understand why she did?
6. At one point, the author characterizes her decision to accept the position in Russia as greedy and self-centered. Could you have made a similar choice? If not, why not?
7. The author draws her title from the podsnezhnik, the first flower to poke through the snow in the early Russian spring. Is it an apt metaphor for this memoir?
8. The author is fairly critical of the treatment of women in Russia. How does this differ from the way women are treated in the rest of the world?
9. A number of different themes are woven through this memoir. How did they speak to you? Were they effective in advancing the narrative?
10. How have your perceptions about Russia changed after reading the book?