St Petersburg

Shadows of the Past

Catriona Kelly

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Fragile, gritty, and vital to an extraordinary degree, St. Petersburg is one of the world’s most alluring cities—a place in which the past is at once ubiquitous and inescapably controversial. Yet outsiders are far more familiar with the city’s pre-1917 and Second World War history than with its recent past.


In this beautifully illustrated and highly original book, Catriona Kelly shows how creative engagement with the past has always been fundamental to St. Petersburg’s residents. Weaving together oral history, personal observation, literary and artistic texts, journalism, and archival materials, she traces the at times paradoxical feelings of anxiety and pride that were inspired by living in the city, both when it was socialist Leningrad, and now. Ranging from rubbish dumps to promenades, from the city’s glamorous center to its grimy outskirts, this ambitious book offers a compelling and always unexpected panorama of an extraordinary and elusive place.

Catriona Kelly is professor of Russian at the University of Oxford and the author of many books about Russian literature and culture. She lives in Oxford and St. Petersburg.
'St Petersburg is a remarkably insightful and original exploration of a great city in change, in which no detail of daily life is left unmapped. Catriona Kelly deftly interlaces her deep knowledge of Russian culture with wry personal observations, sharing with her reader the gritty familiarity with urban life that she has gained as a post-Soviet Petersburg homeowner. This is a unique and valuable work.' - Rachel Polonsky, author of Molotov’s Magic Lantern: A Journey in Russian History
'There is no book quite like it. St Petersburg, one of the cultural and architectural wonders of the world, is brought to life in all its glory and not a little squalor by an adoptive Petersburger.' - Robert Service, author of Stalin: A Biography
'Wonderfully readable, this book offers an unprecedented insight into the urban problems of St Petersburg, and gives a visceral sense of the failed transition of post-Soviet Russia into the global future. Whether Catriona Kelly is talking about restaurants or cemeteries, politicians or artists, myths or truths, she always hits her mark: the memory of the past, she says, is part of everyday life, but it does not replace and should not overshadow the present.' - Alexander Etkind, author of Internal Colonization: Russia’s Imperial Experience
‘This book gives us the real Petersburg, not the elegant buildings at the city’s centre that tourists are bused to, but the Petersburg its inhabitants actually experience. Catriona Kelly, drawing on her vast knowledge of the subject, on literary texts and personal experience provides a richer and more nuanced account of the city than has appeared thus far. She takes us through Petersburg past and present, analysing the way its inhabitants process the city’s turbulent past and conceive their identity. We are given insight into the everyday lives of Petersburgers and their mores as we are taken inside their apartments, into the city’s distinctive neighbourhoods, and around their dining tables and eateries, through their religious observances, their transport system, and more. A real tour de force.’ – Katerina Clark, author of Petersburg, Crucible of Cultural Revolution

"Amusingly written with a wealth of information, this book will be read with joy by specialists and lay audiences alike."—T.R. Weeks, CHOICE

'[an] outstanding book. . . The past, especially in St Petersburg, is around every corner.’—Jon Wright, Geographical Magazine

‘It is meticulously well researched. Catriona Kelly first visited Leningrad as a language student in 1979, and clearly she knows the city well. She draws from an enormous array of sources, including archives, interviews, literary works, internet websites, and personal experience.’—Michael F. Hamm, OUP American Historical Review.

St. Petersburg: Shadows of the Past provides a ‘thick description’ of everyday life in both late-Soviet Leningrad and post-Soviet St. Petersburg, paying tribute throughout to the presence of the past.”—Julie A. Buckler, Journal of Modern History

Long-Listed for the 2015 Historia Nova Award.
ISBN: 9780300219401
Publication Date: April 12, 2016
488 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/2
110 b/w + 12 pp. col. illus.