- Moscow Excursion: A Forgotten Book by Pamela L. Travers
Travers, Pamela. Moskovskaya Ekskursija[Moscow Excursion)]. St.-Petersburg: Limbus-Press, 2016. 288 pages. ISBN:978-5-8370-0691-3
The very first book by the author of Mary Poppins was not a fairy-tale but a travelogue: Moscow Excursion—a story of a visit to the USSR in 1932. It was published in 1934 and seems to remain unnoticed by the public. At the time, none of the critics devoted it proper attention, either considering it “a cheap caricature,” or, condemning it outright: “the author fails to remain within the limits of probability and good taste. His facts are exaggerated and distorted, his characters act like maniacs or morons” ( The Saturday Review). The book seems to have been regarded as a whimsical parody on the popular genre and well-known memoirs of those who travelled to Soviet Russia before her (such as G. B. Shaw, H. G. Wells, J. Reed, etc.).
To make a Russian translation one had to solve many secrets Travers has left in her book, which from the first pages looks like a detective story. “The characters in the book are all synthesized personages,” warns Travers in the preface to her story and replaces all the names with “fictitious initials.” But attentive reading has proved that the author created a deliberate mystification. It becomes obvious that Pamela Travers left a vividly written memoir that not only present us a true to life picture of Soviet Russia in the crucial moment of its history but also reveals many forgotten details of Soviet-British cultural relations in 1920-30s.
The book also proves Travers’ personal interest in Russian culture—first of all, the new experimental Soviet art. In addition to the program suggested to English travelers by Soviet tourist agencies, which aimed to promote achievements of the communist regime, Pamela Travers managed at her own risk to establish contacts with a variety of people—from strangers in the streets to poets and artists. On her own initiative, she visited private homes (which was not approved by the Soviet authorities) as well as a theatre and a film studio. As a result, her picture of Soviet life lacked attractive gloss but contained depth and real colors.
The Russian translation is supported by a detailed commentary made by the translator, Olga Mäeots, who managed to reveal initials used by Travers to hide the real names of people Travers met—well-known journalists, stage directors, a playwright, a cameraman, etc. In the new deciphered version, Moscow Excursionappears to be a fascinating story written not by a prejudiced author but by a person looking for the evidences of the great social experiment as well as the achievements of the avant-garde art and, at the same time, horrified by the anti-humanism of the Soviet regime. [End Page 56]