Was the Russia we grew up fearing truly a monster in disguise, or a
country struggling through various leaders and methods to find itself?
Russian Experiences: Life in the Former USSR and Post-Soviet Russia is
an eye opening discovery of the true Russia. The Russia of the
‘suburbs’; the Russia of the common worker; the Russia of the struggling
family. No political grandstanding in this book, no. This is a story of
its people. It’s heart and soul.
Unless one went through it, experienced it, and lived it, one can’t
ever really know. But a man known as ‘The Raven’ lived through it, and
with the help of co-writer Marie Claire, he tells his story of growing
up in this Russia to the world. But ‘Russian Experiences’ is so much
more than just a story, a riveting story of trial and labor, and of
rebirth. It is, in its essence, a moving and dramatic tale of one man’s
quest for freedom; not just in a physical sense, but an emotional one as
The Raven was born into a period of turmoil. The economy was poor, even
to the point of many teetering on the brink of privation. Proper
education and training for many jobs and positions in the medical field
was below standard and proper supplies, not only those needed for basic
living, but more important, medical supplies were sadly lacking as well.
No luxuries of supermarkets, shopping malls, fashion stores and private
transportation. Because of a lack of proper medical facilities and care,
The Raven suffered a hearing loss accompanied by a speech impediment as
a young child, thereby forcing him from early childhood to deal with
prejudice because of his handicap. For decades, the Russian ideal of
perfection allowed no compassion for those suffering from physical or
emotional handicaps, almost an ‘Out of sight, out of mind’ mentality.
And so, ‘The Raven’ was practically ignored, existing without really
existing in the eyes of society.
The Raven grew up in Baku City, the capital of Azerbaijan. His life
there was by no means easy, and compared to standards most Americans
take for granted, at or near what could be considered the poverty level.
Because of the conflicts and recurring strife between native Armenians
and Azerbaijan natives, he and his brother were unable to attend school
for long stretches of time.
Ultimately, The Raven and his family left Baku, where they had lived
all their lives, to move to a region around Moscow where The Raven and
his family hoped for a better life, a better opportunity for education
and employment. There The Raven continued his education, yet even on the
outskirts of Moscow The Raven struggled to gain the education he
desired, one that would enable him to rise above the poverty and
interrupted education, growing political strife and military tensions,
The Raven pursued his goals and ultimately achieved his degree.
Russian Experiences is a wonderful book that tells the story of one
man’s rise above the restrictive and difficult conditions surrounding
him. The story is not only well written from a technical standpoint, but
it is also a very personal saga of the history and transition of one of
the mightiest nations in the world and the consequences felt by its
complicated political history. Through the eyes of ‘The Raven’ and Marie
Claire, a reader of this tale begins to understand there is much behind
the façade of Russia, one rarely seen or talked about on such a personal
level. As a result, this book could and should be used as a primer for
one to gain a better understanding of what Russia was and is all about,
a book told through the eyes of one man who fought against prejudice and
poor living conditions to gain an identity he could be proud of.
‘Russian Experiences’ is an excellent format for anyone to utilize, from
either a social or personal perspective, in order to experience and
learn about Russia’s history, culture, and the indomitable spirit of
many of its people. In its presentation of both history and humanity,
the authors have managed to cover a brief though thorough bird’s eye
view of how the Russia of today developed; through the growing pains and
uncertainty following of World War Two, through the difficult and tense
years that encompassed the Cold War and finally to the breakdown of the
The co-authors have written a concise, fast reading semi-biographical
story in such a simple and painless writing style as to make pleasurable
though serious reading for any student of political or cultural history.
A unique approach, in employing the anonymity of ‘The Raven’ and his
co-writer telling the story, offers what many might consider an unusual
though very effective method to encourage an understanding of one of the
mightiest nations in the world through the eyes of one of its citizens.
Written in a smoothly descriptive style and utilizing rich though simple
language, this book offers something for a wide range of readers, from
High School students to adults.
Russian Experiences: Life in the Former USSR and Post-Soviet Russia
By The Raven and Marie Claire
ISBNs: 1589391772 (paperback), 1589391985 (hardcover)
Please see the Word Weaving site for an interview with the Raven and Marie Claire by Cindy Penn.