Journey for Our Time. The Russian Journals of the Marquis de Custine
“As soon as the prince withdrew, they assumed an easy air, resolute manners and a bold demeanor which produced an unpleasant contrast to the complete self-abnegation they had effected an instant before”.
This book gives us another reason to stop generalizing when we criticize the French, or any nationality for that matter. As a happy surprise I have found myself admiring another Frenchman (another exception to the rule?), in the mode of Tocqueville, or perhaps even Revel, this amusing down-to-earth traveler from France (despite the high class his title conveys, of Marquis) lets us get to the bone of Russian society, from the god-like Emperor to the servile serfs. The chronicle of this travel is even amusing, despite the gravity and danger it entails by writing so freely while inside Russian territory, because the man never stops from being human; he is not talking as a reporter or historian, or even as a cultivated representative of the French aristocracy: he is a man well aware of the tacit dangers of being a foreigner in Russia, a lover of freedom among servile creatures.
Most of all it is just plain fun to read. There are so many similarities along the book with Soviet Russia (for that matter with any period of Russian history): “It is only with this people -at least I believe it is so- that one has seen martyrs in adoration before their executioners!”
“My astonishment and dismay increase in seeing the tyrant's dementia spread so easily to the men who submit to tyranny; the victims become the zealous accomplices of their executioners.”
M. Custine's astonishment and dismay is like that of Middle-American and the South today who see their country given away to Government by a an elite class of millionaire socialists.
Custine talks with people, writes down the impressions, the fears, the lies, the cynicism, things that really happen but they want say to a foreigner (or even to themselves, because in Russia everybody knows without anybody saying). Love of freedom, from a Frenchman v. love of servitude by the Russian, that is the subject of this little known gem of a book.