Travels with NPR host David Greene along the Trans-Siberian Railroad capture an overlooked, idiosyncratic Russia in the age of Putin.
Far away from the trendy cafés, designer boutiques, and political protests and crackdowns in Moscow, the real Russia exists.
Midnight in Siberia chronicles David Greene’s journey on the Trans-Siberian Railway, a 6,000-mile cross-country trip from Moscow to the Pacific port of Vladivostok. In quadruple-bunked cabins and stopover towns sprinkled across the country’s snowy landscape, Greene speaks with ordinary Russians about how their lives have changed in the post-Soviet years.
These travels offer a glimpse of the new Russia—a nation that boasts open elections and newfound prosperity but continues to endure oppression, corruption, a dwindling population, and stark inequality.
We follow Greene as he finds opportunity and hardship embodied in his fellow train travelers and in conversations with residents of towns throughout Siberia.
We meet Nadezhda, an entrepreneur who runs a small hotel in Ishim, fighting through corrupt layers of bureaucracy every day. Greene spends a joyous evening with a group of babushkas who made international headlines as runners-up at the Eurovision singing competition. They sing Beatles covers, alongside their traditional songs, finding that music and companionship can heal wounds from the past. In Novosibirsk, Greene has tea with Alexei, who runs the carpet company his mother began after the Soviet collapse and has mixed feelings about a government in which his family has done quite well. And in Chelyabinsk, a hunt for space debris after a meteorite landing leads Greene to a young man orphaned as a teenager, forced into military service, and now figuring out if any of his dreams are possible.
Midnight in Siberia is a lively travel narrative filled with humor, adventure, and insight. It opens a window onto that country’s complicated relationship with democracy and offers a rare look into the soul of twenty-first-century Russia.
In 2013, after several years serving as NPR's Moscow bureau chief, Greene traveled 6,000 miles of the Trans-Siberian Railway in a quixotic attempt to understand the Russian soul. As Green journeyed across the Siberian landscape, he made frequent stops to interview ordinary Russians in a variety of situations to capture the everyday realities of post-Soviet Russia. The result is chronicled in this travelogue that reads like a series of episodic radio pieces in the NPR style, a collage of Green's interviews and insights from scholars about Russian history that attempts to answer a few difficult questions: what do the Russians want? Why do they tolerate a corrupt and restrictive government? And, as the Arab Spring erupts in the Middle East, how close is Russia to (another) revolution? What Greene finds is complex and frequently contradictory but all the more thought-provoking: a small business owner who believes Russia must be patient and slowly "develop" towards democracy, a taxi driver who wishes for socialism, an anti-Putin activist who believes Russia needs an autocrat like Stalin (but more benign). Despite the poverty and repression he frequently encounters, Greene remains optimistic throughout his travels, and he reproduces the source of this conviction in this collection of vignettes.