Christmas Day, 1991: Over the fabled onion domes of the Kremlin, the red hammer-and-sickle flag of the Soviet empire flutters down and the Russian national tricolor is hoisted in its place; after more than 70 years of communist rule, it is the start of a new chapter in one of history’s greatest epics. But jubilation is tempered by deep uncertainty ¬– and, as this dramatic book demonstrates on every page, both emotions have been amply justified in the decade that has elapsed since then.
Gerd Ludwig and Fen Montaigne each know Russia as well as any Westerner can. Ludwig, a concerned, perceptive photojournalist, has been fascinated by this vast and varied land since he was a young boy growing up in Germany; Montaigne first felt its powerful pull as Moscow correspondent for the Philadelphia Inquirer in the communist era and was an eyewitness to many of the pivotal events in the fall of the U.S.S.R. and its aftermath. In this vivid retrospective, they combine their wide experience and remarkable talent to document ten epochal years of transition – a decade marked by glittering opportunity, poignant suffering, bold aspirations, and brutal upheaval.
The 126 stunning photographs collected here capture many moods: the brash, glitzy whirl of a ballroom, where fresh-minted capitalists flaunt their success; and the grey despair of a street market, where the poor hawk meagre possessions to buy a meal. On one page, a group of elderly babushkas clutch candles at the blessing of a well, once again openly celebrating their faith; on the next, the suffering face of a young radiation victim displays the heartbreaking price of nuclear might. Every image adds a new piece to the eternal puzzle called Russia, by turns greedy and generous, stoic and exuberant, suspicious and sympathetic.
As Tatyana Tolstaya, prominent writer and daughter of Russia’s legendary Tolstoy, declares in her forthright foreword, “Russia is an astonishing country.” BROKEN EMPIRE proves her out with an informed and informative text that chronicles the abrupt, tumultuous collapse of Soviet communism and the runaway capitalism that rushed into the vacuum it left behind. Bold and thoughtful, powerful and passionate, this is a book that pulses with the spirit of Russia herself.