Honors | The Life and Times of an Eccentric Russian Genius (HON)
H204 | 16923 | Ronald Feldstein

TuTh 2:30-3:45pm
HU 108

The Russian documentary film about the life and times of William
Pokhlebkin starts with his dramatic murder in the year 2000. Found
stabbed to death, on the floor of his Podol'sk apartment, his book
about Stalin was on the floor next to him, a bootprint on its cover.
This course, starting with a new translation of this documentary
film, traces the life and times of the non-conformist genius
Pokhlebkin, as a reflection of the Russian society in which he
lived. One of the most promising historians of his generation in the
early 1950's, he was fired from his job and evicted from his Moscow
apartment, because of criticizing the system. Reduced to living in
penury, far from his old Moscow apartment, he went on to produce
classics in the fields of history, heraldry, and especially the
culture of cuisine. His most famous book proved the Russian origin
of vodka for legal reasons, but his original book on tea was
considered a major news item as well. It became a bestseller in
Poland, but the Russian Communist Party cynically attacked it as
proving his disloyalty and led to his inability to hold any job in
Russia at the time.

Although only two of Pokhlebkin's books have been translated into
English, this course is part of a project to make the documentary
film and selections from many of his works available in English. The
author's penetrating essays on the cultural and culinary differences
between the peoples of the former Soviet Union will be explored by
reading and discussion. Since climate and geographical conditions
often have resulted in these culinary differences, they will be
looked at as part of the course. For example, why are rye and
buckwheat so prevalent in the Russian diet? What do we find in all
of the other zones of the former Soviet Union? How do we know that
Russian vodka predates Polish vodka by a century?

In addition to articles on the food culture of Russia, the life
story and historical works will also be sampled. Pokhlebkin will
serve as a gateway to many aspects of Russian culture as well as the
life and times of a scholar in Soviet and Post-Soviet Russia.