- Diaries and Diaspora Identity Rethinking Russian Emigration in China
The two books under review here are the diary of P. V. Vologodskii and the joint diaries of I. I. Serebrennikov and his wife, A. N. Serebrennikova. Both Vologodskii and Serebrennikov served in anti-Bolshevik Siberian governments during the Civil War, and all three diarists lived as exiles in China. As part of an effort to bring to a larger audience unpublished contemporary accounts, 1and given that there are important collections of such accounts by [End Page 127]participants in the Civil War and by Russian exiles who lived in China, the publication of these diaries should itself be applauded.
Beyond making the diaries available in print, the editors of the volumes believe there are lacunae to be filled. For the fullness of the account that Vologodskii's diary gives on the Omsk government and on his own activities, Vologodskii's editors expect the diary to lead to a reevaluation of his role, often overlooked or dismissed in the Civil War literature. 2In the Serebrennikovs' case, the general editor of the book underscores the rarity of diaries kept by émigrés and anticipates that the diaries will generate "great interest" in the information they provide on émigré life. 3For students of these fields—the Civil War and the Russian emigration, particularly that in China—these diaries could well do what the editors envisioned. But the diaries also do more. It is the intention of this review to discuss how these diaries can also lead us to rethink the writing of emigration histories.
The histories of the Russian emigration following the Civil War have largely fallen into two groups. The first and earlier group aims to document the political aftermath of the Civil War and the extension of the Russian anti-Bolshevik movement past the borders of Russia. The second group, reacting to the first, turns away from the politics of anti-Bolshevism to consider emigration as a cultural history of Russian intellectuals in exile. By now, the prevalence of the "cultural" view of emigration has mostly obscured the first and more political approach. Since the emergence of this second group of histories, the study of Russians' émigré experience has mostly been shaped by efforts to understand the formation of Russian diaspora cultural identities.
The diaries of Vologodskii and the Serebrennikovs provide a tool for assessing these two approaches by taking us back to the original documents left by articulate members of the Russian emigration. Vologodskii's diary dates from mid-1918, soon after he learned of his election to the Provisional Siberian Government. The diary ends shortly before his death in 1925. The Serebrennikovs' diaries published here, the first volume of a projected five, combines both Ivan Innokent′evich and Aleksandra Nikolaevna's entries. The volume begins in December 1919, just before the fall of the Omsk government of Admiral A. V. Kolchak, and breaks off in 1934, 19 years before Ivan Innokent′evich's death and 21 years before Aleksandra Nikolaevna left China for the United States. Both sets of diaries are meticulously annotated and accompanied by a thorough introduction and a biographical index. Each [End Page 128]of these books offers both a firsthand account and scholarly commentaries for reading this account.
Along with a political and intellectual portrait of Vologodskii, the introduction to...