A Financial Times Best History Book of the Year
Many people are familiar with American Commodore Matthew Perry’s expedition to open trade relations with Japan in the early 1850s. Less well known is that on the heels of the Perry squadron followed a Russian expedition secretly on the same mission. Serving as secretary to the naval commander was novelist Ivan Goncharov, who turned his impressions into a book, The Frigate Pallada, which became a bestseller in imperial Russia. In A World of Empires, Edyta Bojanowska uses Goncharov’s fascinating travelogue as a window onto global imperial history in the mid-nineteenth century.
Reflecting on encounters in southern Africa’s Cape Colony, Dutch Java, Spanish Manila, Japan, and the British ports of Singapore, Hong Kong, and Shanghai, Goncharov offers keen observations on imperial expansion, cooperation, and competition. Britain’s global ascendancy leaves him in equal measures awed and resentful. In Southeast Asia, he recognizes an increasingly interlocking world in the vibrant trading hubs whose networks encircle the globe. Traveling overland back home, Goncharov presents Russia’s colonizing rule in Siberia as a positive imperial model, contrasted with Western ones.
Slow to be integrated into the standard narrative on European imperialism, Russia emerges here as an increasingly assertive empire, eager to position itself on the world stage among its American and European rivals and fully conversant with the ideologies of civilizing mission and race. Goncharov’s gripping narrative offers a unique eyewitness account of empire in action, in which Bojanowska finds both a zeal to emulate European powers and a determination to define Russia against them.
Bojanowska’s is a meticulously researched, highly informative, engagingly written work that both elucidates Goncharov’s text and, ultimately, outshines it.
Edyta Bojanowska’s engrossing book draws on the first-hand account of Ivan Goncharov, author of the classic novel Oblomov, to narrate the voyage which a Russian frigate made in the 1850s from St. Petersburg to Japan…Bojanowska explains how Goncharov was alive to notions of globalization long before that term entered our vocabulary.
A fascinating, kaleidoscopic work buzzing with insight and overflowing with ideas…A World of Empires abounds with intelligence, wit, and erudition.
In this finely wrought and gracefully written book, Edyta M. Bojanowska examines Goncharov’s travelogue as both a unique literary work in its own right and a historical artifact that offers revealing insights into the Russian colonial imagination.
Bojanowska’s account aims for a ‘productive conversation between the writer’s crafted vision of the world he saw, the history known then, and the history known now’. The result is most impressive. This book is at once history and literary criticism; it is political, economic and cultural; it is national, international and transnational—and, to top it off, Bojanowska makes this ambitious feat look effortless.
In A World of Empires, Edyta Bojanowska opens an intriguing window on to this earlier age of globalization.
Bojanowska takes apart Goncharov’s account like a precious timepiece, examining each component to reveal a different side to Russia’s entry into the age of imperialism…A splendid exposition of the ways in which, from the 1850s onward, Russia's history, like that of Belgium, France, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom, was shaped by the process of colonization.
A remarkable accomplishment…It reconstructs a truly complex and multilayered nineteenth-century discourse of empire and Russianness, globality and civilization, human difference and sameness…A fascinating intellectual journey.
Fabulous and insightful…It is one of the most engaging academic studies I have come across in a long time. Of most direct interest to readers interested in the history of imperialism, Russian expansion, and nineteenth-century travel writing, it is worth the attention of a very wide readership.
This book is a gem: intelligent, finely written, and original. Bojanowska analyzes the 1852 Pallada expedition through the account supplied by its Boswell, the famous and enigmatic Russian novelist Ivan Goncharov. But this is more than the story of a writer and his journey. The author casts light on the nature of Russia’s empire-making, and how it compares with rival imperialisms in the nineteenth century.
The hugeness of Russia and its territorial seepage into Asia are facts that many of its great writers celebrated but few personally experienced, at least as free subjects. One who did was Ivan Goncharov—novelist, lay ethnographer, naval secretary, and shrewdly observant travel diarist on the Pallada expedition. Skillfully utilizing his bestselling travelogue, Bojanowska tells the mind-bending story of Russia’s imperial coming-of-age.
A World of Empires examines Goncharov’s famous travelogue as both a unique literary creation and a historical artifact that exposes the norms of its place and time. Bojanowska’s touch is remarkable. Moving with grace and erudition between literary criticism and history, she makes contributions to each. A rare accomplishment.
- 2019, Joint winner of the Gustav Ranis International Book Prize
- 2019, Winner of the AATSEEL Best book in literary scholarship
- Belknap Press
From this author
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