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Edward E. Ericson, Jr.

You Call This a Resurrection?

Resurrection is harder to imagine than death. Newspapers don't devote a page a day to resurrections, and the archetypal Resurrection draws more deniers than believers. Death, on the other hand, is the single greatest preoccupation of literature and the prime prompter of the human drama. David Remnick won a Pulitzer Prize when the motif was death, in Lenin's Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire. The key question about its sequel is whether, for a book subtitled "The Struggle for a New Russia," the right title is Resurrection.

Early reviewers say no. They praise the reporting of the former Washington Post Moscow correspondent and current New Yorker staffer, but they observe the inconvenient fact that most of the news he brings is negative: The standard of living has plummeted. Crime has soared. Corruption disfigures politics. Pollution fouls the rivers, the skies, the land. Life-expectancy rates are stunningly low--59 years for males--and the birthrate is the third lowest in the world. The forecast: demographic disaster.

Remnick's instincts are surer than his critics'. This best Western reporter on improbable Russia moves beyond the predictable analytical categories of politics and economics to consider culture as well, and in the process, he espies "a recovery from postimperial funk." A non-Christian, he nevertheless recognizes how important the faith of this long-Christian nation was to its enduring the 74-year Soviet parenthesis. In sum, he transcends the common failing of measuring Russia by a Western yardstick, and more than the mere sentiment of a Russophile gives him grounds for his hopeful title.

True, the open-endedness of this book's story makes for a narrative less tidy than that of Lenin's Tomb. True, also, if a new birth is in process, it is being handled by some pretty messy and very bloodstained midwives. Remnick's main theme, "the struggle for a definition of the new Russian state," is captured neatly by the microcosmic story of Moscow's Cathedral of ...

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