Berezina [book review]

On a whim, I bought this “travel book” in a nice bookstore at the end of Rue Mouffetard, Paris, when looking for a weekend travel guide! I was fairly intrigued about this road-trip on an antique Soviet side-car, following the route of Napoleon’s army when retreating from a burning Moscow. In fact, I have always been fascinated by the way Napoleon got mired into the Campaign of Russia, and not only because of Charles Joseph Minard‘s amazing graphical summary of the Campaign! Despite advices from scientists and diplomats, Napoleon did not want to pay any heed to the climate constraints. And he did not account either for the sacrificial tendencies of the Russian troops and irregulars. A predictable disaster of sorts… The book thus commemorates this retreat from Moscow by driving three side-cars to Paris in the heart of winter, in order to coincide with the arrival of the few survivors of the Grande Armée in Paris. The book however gets very quickly boring as the painfully slow and uncertain drive cannot equate the horror of the hundreds of thousands of deaths in Napoleon’s army fleeing back to Paris. Driving by sub-zero temperatures sharing roads with indifferent Ukrainian truck-drivers and repairing every now and then the side-cars that fell apart does not appeal for long, especially when  It only takes the side-cars 13 days to reach Paris and there is no tension in the road trip as they could really stop any time. On top of that, the discourse about the charisma of Napoleon and the complaints about the reduction of our life scope from heroic time to pampered materialists is pretty annoying, and so is the permanent glorification of the Russian soul. This type of chat does not really rise above the level of a blog series, trust an expert!

3 Responses to “Berezina [book review]”

  1. > glorification of the Russian soul

    Hmm and some immigrants
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Cornelius_O%27Rourke#Background

    (No, I don’t know if that is my ancestor)

    Just in amusement,
    Keith O’Rourke

    • What I meant by this clumsy sentence was that the author reproduced the theme of Russia as the New Wild West where everything was possible, with a few French expats having fled France administrative constraints and overall mediocrity, à la Depardieu..!

      • Right?

        With some translation assistance of à la Depardieu from Marlene:

        French expats left France to find a better life elsewhere

        And using my best wiki scholarship:

        The O’Rourke family … moved at the time as refugees to France … one branch of the O’Rourkes moved to Livonia, then a province of the Russian Empire … completely absorbed into Russian high society … O’Rourke took part in the defense and defeat of the French [Napoleon] at Leipzig … awarded the Prussian Iron Cross, the Order of the Red Eagle and the Swedish Order of the Sword

        Seems close but again somewhat in jest
        Cheers
        Keith

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