Heart-Pine Russia

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Russia’s geography is rich in forest, and it’s culture is abundant in the spirits and heroes that traverse it. The national literature has ventured deep into these woods, but Western critics have only rarely followed. Costlow’s marvelous book stands in the middle of this forest and points to wonders all around. This is a beautiful, meditative, and insightful book that opens up new worlds of appreciation for both literature and nature.” — William Nickell on Jane T. Costlow’s Heart-Pine Russia: Walking and Writing the Nineteenth-Century Forest

Russia has more woodlands than any country in the world, and its forests have loomed large in Russian folklore, culture, and history. Russan forests have long been the focus of naturalist wonder, scientific scrutiny, and poetic imagination. For some the forest was the imaginary landscape of their religious homeland, for others it was the locus of peasant culture and local knowledge. In Heart-Pine Russia, Jane Costlow explores the central place the forest has held in the Russian imagination.

Costlow considers the work of authors such as Turgenev and Tolstoy, and artists like Shishkin, Repin, and Nesterov. One of our favorite chapters focuses on Dmitrii Kaigorodov, a forester and natural historian who was a John Burroughs-like figure offering popular works in the end of the Imperial era. (His most famous book was titled Chats about the Russian Forest — the Land Library’s latest book we would love to find!).

Author John Randolph has this to say about Heart-Pine Russia: “The struggle to really see and hear the life of Russia’s forests infuses Costlow’s story with many lyrical moments…” The Land Library is thrilled to find a book with so many fresh insights into another culture’s natural history traditions. Jane Costlow’s book joins several more on our shelves:

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One of the first Russian natural history books we ever read: Nature’s Diary by Mikhail Prishvin (the Penguin edition includes an appreciation from John Updike), and a former Land Series book, The Storks’ Nest: Life and Love in the Russian Countryside, Laura Williams’ wonderful memoir of moving from Colorado to live and work in the Russian outback, eventually marrying international nature photographer Igor Shpilenok.
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The Reindeer People: Living with Animals and Spirits in Siberia, anthropologist Piers Vitebsky’s sensitively drawn portrait of native people in the modern world, and Dersu the Trapper, V.K. Arseniev’s (1872-1930) description of three expeditions to the Ussurian taiga (along the Sea of Japan) and his classic encounters with the solitary aboriginal hunter named Dersu. It’s amazing how many current-day nature writers have been influenced by Arseniev’s book!
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The Tiger: A True Story of Revenge and Survival — one of the most popular books the Land Library Book Club has ever read. Covering the same landscape as Dersu the Trapper, John Vaillant tells the tale of the mighty Amur tiger, and the hard life of the Russian outback. A wonderful writer! As is, Ian Frazier. His Travels in Siberia describes the land, the people, and the dark chapters of Russia’s Siberian experience.

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Who are we when we enter the forest? What happens to our personalities, our languages, our histories, our narratives? The essays in this book explore a tradition of writing and envisioning Russia’s great European forest — diminished and vulnerable, but lovely and powerful and in many ways daunting to those who entered it…” Jane T. Costlow, in Heart-Pine Russia: Walking and Writing the Nineteenth-Century Forest

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