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The Story of Memory in a Russian Village

Margaret Paxson

Publication Year: 2005

In a small village beside a reed-lined lake in the Russian north, a cluster of farmers has lived for centuries -- in the time of tsars and feudal landlords; Bolsheviks and civil wars; collectivization and socialism; perestroika and open markets. Solovyovo is about the place and power of social memory. Based on extensive anthropological fieldwork in that single village, it shows how villagers configure, transmit, and enact social memory through narrative genres, religious practice, social organization, commemoration, and the symbolism of space. Margaret Paxson relates present-day beliefs, rituals, and practices to the remembered traditions articulated by her informants. She brings to life the everyday social and agricultural routines of the villagers as well as holiday observances, religious practices, cosmology, beliefs and practices surrounding health and illness, the melding of Orthodox and communist traditions and their post-Soviet evolution, and the role of the yearly calendar in regulating village lives. The result is a compelling ethnography of a Russian village, the first of its kind in modern, North American anthropology.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-iv

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Notes on Transcription and Proper Names

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pp. vi

In this book, I use the Library of Congress style for transcription, with a few exceptions for mostly proper names that have entered the common lexicon with a different spelling (e.g., Chechnya, rather than Chechnia, and Yeltsin, not El’tsin). For the sake of readers unaccustomed to Russian pronunciations, I have used the nonstandard transcription Solovyovo for Solov’evo. ...


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pp. x-xi

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Introduction: Iuliia’s Hands1

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pp. 1-9

The story of memory in Solovyovo starts with a pair of hands—hands that have grown numb over time, wooden. She has to strike those hands against a chair or a leg or another hand just to beat some feeling into them. Iuliia2 has been beating her hands this way in the eight years that I have known her. ...

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1 Memory’s Topography

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pp. 12-25

Certainly, memories appear to be things sometimes—we can gather them up, we can put them in our heads and keep them there, or we can lose them. Reified memories have been used in various ways by various disciplines. Historians, for example, have looked to them for the stuff of historical reconstruction. ...

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2 Setting the Village in Space and Time

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pp. 28-49

In the lifetime of most of the villagers in Solovyovo, there have been wars, poverty, famine, backbreaking work for one’s own livelihood and for the state, ideological upheavals, and a horrifying number of untimely, senseless deaths. Around their tables, in walks to field and forest, rocking along quiet waves in rowboats, and in the dusty air of their local store...

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3 Being “One’s Own” in Solovyovo

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pp. 52-85

The eye for physical geography seeks shifting patterns in physical landscapes, such as the places where hills rise and fall, where water drains and flows, and where there are trees or grasses or wildlife. The eye for social geography seeks clusters of people engaged in some shared activity, such as working together, living or sleeping together...

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4 Radiance

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pp. 88-119

Iuliia said with a sigh, “It is good here in the forest.” She and I had sneaked off to look for mushrooms one July day. The air was cool and fresh and quiet. Work was kilometers away in the village. We would let it wait. “Breathe in the air,” Iuliia told me, “it’s good for your health and good for the soul.” ...

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5 Wonders

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pp. 122-149

There are memories of strange and miraculous things. What can be made of them? The boundaries of the radiant past were relatively easy to define. In certain discursive contexts, the past is always better than the present. In light of this, the “radiant past” was defined in a simple binary manner. The task there was to draw out the particular dynamics of symbolism in that part of narrative memory. ...

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6 Healing

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pp. 152-211

Maia Bogdanova’s words speak of a time that has gone out of joint. All of our disorder, our moral and physical disorder, has caused a state of supreme instability—to such a degree that Mother Earth herself will not stand for it, and in her fury sends earthquakes and floods to punish us. Maia’s solution to these ills resonates with the discourse of the radiant...

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7 The Red Corner

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pp. 214-263

How did the Great Social Experiment fare? How did it change the landscape of memory? It educated with images of a great and radiant future, it offered new leaders without the trappings of religion’s dulling “opium,” it offered explanations, inspirations, and giddiness. When that did not work, it droned with endless speeches and took children...

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8 Calendars

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pp. 266-343

While I lived in Solovyovo, days were counted in a limited range of contexts. The mail truck would come three times a week, as would the bus from Belozersk when the roads were dry enough or frozen enough to carry travelers. Bread would arrive twice a week and people from Solovyovo, Vershina, and Maksimovo would line up in the local store...

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Afterword: On Lightness and Weight

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pp. 345-347

In my very first visit to Solovyovo in summer 1994, I spent a night in a tiny house, which, it turned out later, was known to be haunted. I was with Svetlana Adon’eva, a folklorist who had graciously invited me to come with her students on a short expedition in the region, together with enough other people so that we found ourselves crowded on the floor...

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pp. 351-355

In the summer of 2004, I was shown a tree that had been planted outside the clubhouse during my time in the village that I have called Solovyovo. The tree, transplanted from a nearby forest nine full years ago, was surprisingly small, reaching only just higher than my waist. Perhaps the roots...


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pp. 356-357


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pp. 358-374


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pp. 375-388

E-ISBN-13: 9780253002594
E-ISBN-10: 0253002591
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253346544

Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2005

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Memory -- Social aspects -- Russia (Federation) -- Belozerskiĭ raĭon (Vologodskai͡a oblastʹ).
  • Belozerskiĭ raĭon (Vologodskai͡a oblastʹ, Russia) -- Social life and customs.
  • Ethnology -- Russia (Federation) -- Belozerskiĭ raĭon (Vologodskai͡a oblastʹ).
  • Paxson, Margaret.
  • Belozerskiĭ raĭon (Vologodskai͡a oblastʹ, Russia) -- Rural conditions.
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