Tuesday, October 2, 2007


While strolling along the Russian bookshelves in the library - a favorite pastime of mine, I assure you - I happened across a title that I just couldn't pass up. Of course they always tell you that you can't judge a book by its cover, but they never said anything about the title, and with a book called Kapoot...well, you can understand my feelings.

As it turns out, Kapoot was written by a well known American explorer/author by the name of Carveth Wells. A dogged world traveller, Wells spent a good portion of his life exploring the dangers and discomforts of the Malaysian jungle, the African desert, and, yes, Soviet Russia. At the time that the book was written - 1933 - the communist party in the U.S. was at the height of its popularity. Apparently, Wells was not so sympathetic with the party and, from what I gain from reading the book, he held an irrational fear that Americans would be hoodwinked into buying communism.

Now we all know that Russia under Stalin was not a pretty picture, what with the 5 year plans and the liquidization of the kulaks and the severe famine and the Party purges and the gulags and the collectivization of farms and the general social and economic upheaval. But Mr. Wells goes to such lengths to prove it that the result is almost comical. It is clear that he intended at all costs to keep an eye on those sneaky communists; I was expecially gratified by his inclusion of several compelling alliterations, my favorite being "those burly Bolsheviks."

Despite the questionable authority of Wells's book, I can't deny that I enjoyed myself. He takes us up and down eastern Russian, from St. Petersburg to Echmiazin, on an ill-fated attempt to climb Mt. Ararat and find the remains of Noah's ark. Along the way, he demonstrates the godlessness of the Russians, gets arrested at least three times, subsists on black bread riddled with assorted items of garbage, experiences the Russian equivalent of the bed bug, half starves on a week long train ride to Vladikavkaz, listens to the screams of patients being treated in a Russian hospital, survives a harrowing horseback ride through the Khevsur region, and generally commentates on the poverty and downtroddenness of the land. Russia, he wants everyone to know, is Kapoot indeed.

While Wells's book is certainly not something I would recommend as a source for scholarly research, it nevertheless made for interesting bedtime reading. But perhaps you would rather take my word for it...


Dr. Michael A. Denner said...

Cool.. Fascinating. Never heard of this guy, never heard of the book. And quite a Quixotic quest! (like my alliteration?)

Communism was (ironically) a lot like a religion for many people in the twentieth century. When you were "reborn" as a Communist, you basically accepted EVERYTHING "they" said. It's hard to believe, but for decades after WWII, diehard Communists in the US and Europe continued to deny that the Soviet Union had prison camps, or that the peasants were forcibly collectivized, or that there were purges and mass forced relocations, etc., etc. I mean, we're talking about MILLIONS of deaths here, and hardly anyone in the Soviet Union harbored such illusions about the innocence of the authorities.

Two books to note here: Kravchenko, I Choose Freedom -- a really utterly fascinating book by a bureaucrat who worked in the Kremlin during WWII who defected in 1943. His revelations about the prison camps and the purges of Stalinist USSR caused an international uproar -- he was actually sued for libel by French Communists in the "trial of the century". We read chunks of this in my Honors course last semester -- students liked it a lot.

The other book is the 1987 "The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression". It's basically an accounting of the deaths directly attributable to Communism, and its claim is that Communist regimes are responsible for a greater number of deaths than any other political ideal or movement, including fascism.

It, too, was an incredibly contentious and controversial book.

So, "kapoot" might be one of the first of this genre of books... bring it to class. I'd like to have a read!

Thanks for an excellent entry!

Central FLA Gardener said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dr. Michael A. Denner said...

my favorite thing on the map: "collectivized weeds"

LiveBreatheMusic said...

Gotta love the zebra farm.... Где моя зебра? ГДЕ МОЯ ЗЕБРА?!?!?!