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Off beat travelogue set in Russia

18th June 2019

Behind Putin’s Curtain by Stephan Orth – off beat travelogue set in Russia. Translated (from the German) by Jamie McIntosh.

Off beat travelogue set in Russia

Stephan Orth is a Hamburg based journalist and world traveller. He has twice won the prestigious Columbus Award for travel writing, and his previous book Couchsurfing in Iran was translated into several languages. He specialises in off beat travelogues.

In Behind Putin’s Curtain he travels the length and breadth of Russia. Not so much focusing on the tourist destinations of Moscow or St Petersburg (although he visits both and manages to avoid the main sights…) but with more emphasis on the far flung and the unusual. He travelled 9,500 kilometres across seven time zones. Russia is not an homogeneous country with an homogeneous population… Most of the time he ‘couchsurfed’ – sleeping in the spare bed (or on the floor) of people he met on the internet. The deal – a sort of alternative business model – is that you sleep for free in exchange for conversation about the wider world. He met some really interesting hosts. Small town Russia sounds a bit like small town America – only with a prominent statue of either Lenin or Stalin (or a very large picture of Putin) in the centre. The enthusiasm of his hosts for showing him the sights is very infectious. The book opens with Stephan standing on the edge of a massive crater in Mirny in the far east of Russia. The crater is all that is left of a great diamond mining venture. He goes on a crazy drive into town with his two guides and driver. Very few tourists visit, and they have really pulled out all the stops. From North to South and East to West the reception he gets is much the same. No so many of the dour Russians we have all heard about.

Orth writes in a very engaging and very witty style. Behind Putin’s Curtain is a book you may not wish to read at one go unless you are heading off for a similar adventure, but it is a most enjoyable book to pick up and put down. Each chapter is pretty stand alone. It is (as it says in the blurb…) ‘a colourful portrait of a fascinating and misunderstood country’.

Tony for the TripFiction team

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  1. User: barbara baer

    Posted on: 18/06/2019 at 7:37 pm

    Sounds good. Traveled by Trans-Sib from Vlad to St P the year the currency fell…one of the years…late 1990s…stayed with families but that was pretty much arranged and a commercial venture for them, not the free wheeling couch surfing here…would give more freedom. Still, we got somewhat off beaten path. Recommend Khabarovsk, wonder what it’s like 20 years later, Vladivostok as well. Thanks for review.