Utopia's Discontents: Russian Émigrés and the Quest for Freedom, 1830s-1930s

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Product Details
Oxford University Press, USA
Publish Date
5.6 X 8.7 X 1.5 inches | 1.5 pounds

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About the Author
Faith Hillis is Associate Professor of Russian History at the University of Chicago. She is the author of Children of Rus': Right-Bank Ukraine and the Invention of a Nation.
"When discussing the effects of the Russian Revolution, much scholarly energy has been expended on whether ideology or the experience of taking power was responsible for Bolshevik policy. In this meticulously documented account Faith Hillis adds another dimension to this debate as she argues that, although absorbed by radical ideology, the life experienced in Russian colonies abroad affected the way in which Russian radicals and revolutionaries understood these ideas and thus how they behaved when in power....Hillis's book...emphasizes once again the primacy of ideas for the Russian radicals and recreates the neighborhoods and complex interactions that gave currency to these ideas both in Russia and beyond." -- Catherine Andreyev, Journal of Modern History

"This is a compelling and rich study that has many interesting sides and uses for the historian. Perhaps its greatest strength is in how it reconstructs the experience of being revolutionary in Europe, and the influence of utopians on pivotal moments in European and Russian history." -- George Gilbert, University of Southampton, UK, European History Quarterly

"Impressive in its scope, Utopia's Discontents provides a reinterpretation of the political genealogies of the Russian Revolution through a study of its rich and contentious émigré history....This book offers not only a richly detailed analysis of émigrés' efforts to reinvent society but also an interpretation of Russian radical thought as rooted in transnational spaces.... Hillis not only weaves the life stories of the Russian Revolution's celebrities into a dense web of encounters and exchanges but illuminates the groups often marginalized from these big histories. The narrative steps deftly from Poles and Ukrainians, to women, and to Jews, the focus on the latter group offering particularly exciting new perspectives on the revolutionary emigration....The website companion to the book... is an invaluable resource for historians in the field working with rare books and periodicals and a generous contribution to scholarship." -- Lara Green, Revolutionary Russia

"Engrossing.... Hillis's flair for narrative, small and large, gives Utopia's Discontents its depth and breadth. We learn about Russian women students who wore large glasses and short haircuts to signify their break with traditional gender norms, about Mensheviks and Bolsheviks brawling in Genevan bars, and about one émigré Populist leader's successful career as an artisanal kefir maker. Behind the dozens of characters that we meet is an enormous number of archival documents and a conviction that the milieu is the true protagonist of history." -- Ania Aizman, Los Angeles Review of Books

"Marvelous....the first major treatment of the émigré circles that dotted central and western Europe through the nineteenth century and into the twentieth.... Hillis offers a convincing portrait of these colonies functioning as...loci of intense engagement where groups of Russian emigres...rubbed shoulders, shouted at one another, and exchanged ideas with one another to produce new forms of said politics with drastic importance for world history.... It is clearly and elegantly written and shows a masterful command of the source material. It shines light on as a creative space capable of generating vast ideas....Hillis offers a new form of spatial history, a republic of cafes, street corners, bedrooms, and railroad cars where Russia was reimagined and the world transformed. Utopia's Discontents belongs on every bookshelf, and Hillis deserves every praise for writing it." -- Joshua Meyers, In Geveb: A Journal of Yiddish Studies

"The waves of Russian political, literary, and artistic émigrés who relocated to Europe have fascinated Western historians....Faith Hillis has her own unique perspective on post-Napoleonic Europe's Russian colonies....Her novel angle attempts to illustrate how the exiles living in poor, crowded conditions contributed to the particularities of Bolshevik politics and party culture....Hillis...is fair minded and balanced, cautious and moderate in her judgments, and she tells her story with detail and fluency." -- Ronald Grigor Suny, American Historical Review

"Hillis has written a ground-breaking study of Russian history from the perspective of émigrés and their movements against both czarist rule and, after the 1917 Revolution, the Bolsheviks themselves. Hillis notes anti-czarist movements began well before the revolutions of 1848 and reconstituted themselves after the failed Paris Commune of 1871....Hillis is to be applauded for the very successful application of her unique approach to considering Russian history." -- Choice

"When we describe the October Revolution as a 'world-historical event', this is usually understood to refer to the global consequences of the rise of the first Marxist state. Faith Hillis, in a brilliant move, has turned this sequence of events on its head. Utopia's Discontents shows how people, places and events situated far beyond the borders of Russia shaped the Revolution. The October Revolution, she shows, was world-historical at its root....Utopia's Discontents narrates the history of these utopian communities in fascinating, intimate detail....An excellent example of history that steps beyond disciplinary divisions and national boundaries." -- Kevin M.F. Platt, Times Literary Supplement

"Utopia's Discontents literally puts the history of the Russian Revolution--and all that came with it--on the map. By moving our point of reference to the émigré and exile peripheries at the core of twentieth-century history, this fascinating study of the 'Russian colonies' in Europe offers an inspiringly original take on the history of 'post-colonialism.' With uncommon narrative ease and rigorous attention to detail, Hillis does to the reigning historiography of the revolutionary movements what her protagonists did to the liberal order of the late nineteenth century. The history of ideas just got a good deal richer." -- Holly Case, author of Age of Questions

"Vividly narrated and brimming with insight, Utopia's Discontents brings to life the storied 'Russian colonies' of western Europe's major cities, where revolutions were plotted and new countries imagined. Faith Hillis brilliantly recreates the dense neighborhoods, intimate, often fraught social relationships, and high-pitched theoretical arguments that characterized life in the Russian colonies. Utopia's Discontents is a multi-layered study, at once richly local in focus and broad in scope. It is a truly exciting book." -- Tony Michels, author of A Fire in Their Hearts: Yiddish Socialists in New York

"This ground-breaking book rethinks the history of Russia's revolutionaries through their lives in exile communities. Place mattered in their story: for inspiration, for encounters, for everyday radical practices. The book is a rich history of ideas--freedom, equality, community, and justice, and socialism--but as everyday practices rather than dreamy abstractions. Not least, this is magisterial research, written in an accessible and compelling manner." -- Mark Steinberg, author of The Russian Revolution, 1905-21