Although I read several books while preparing for our Russia Revealed trip, there are two that stand out in my mind as my favorites..
The first is Elena Gorokhova's autobiography about growing up in St. Petersburg in the 1960's, "A Mountain of Crumbs." Her family members' daily lives, their constant struggle to have enough food, her observations on the myriad of governmental regulations, descriptions of her educational experiences......All of those were in my mind when I finally walked in the streets of St. Petersburg and thought about the lives that the people around me had experienced. Elena beats her wings agains the faultiness of the Soviet system until she feels she has to get out, and we in the west are richer for having the chance to read this very well written account of her life in the Soviet Union.
Very different, and equally moving, was Debra Dean's novel "The Madonnas of Leningrad." Oddly enough, I had quickly scanned this book when it came out several years ago, and rejected it because one of its central themes was Alzheimer's. It switches back and forth between the "present," where an elderly woman is in the early stages of that disease, and her experiences during the war years. I am so glad that I picked it up again. The fictional, but well researched, story deals with her life as a young woman during the Seige of Leningrad. She is a tour guide in the Hermitage, in love with a soldier, and the Hermitage itself is almost like a character in the book. Reading this book made our own Hermitage visit so much more meaningful.
These books are pleasurable reading, not scholarly tomes. I also loved the interesting, more scholarly works of Harrison Salisbury, and Robert and Suzann Massie's books about the imperial family, and those are very much worth your time. But the two books mentioned above are the ones that touched my heart, and the ones that stayed in my mind as we toured St. Petersburg. If you are taking the Russia Revealed trip, or if you just want to read two interesting books about Russia, I highly recommend both of them.