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08.20.08

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Phaedra

Postcards From the Trenches

Postcards From The Russian Revolution

Reviewed by Michael S. Gant


"Wish you were here." The ur-sentiment of postcard scribblers since vacations immemorial doesn't always apply. The average traveler—unless we're talking about John Reed—might not want to be caught up in the chaos of the Russian revolution or the slaughter of the trenches in World War I. And yet, as demonstrated in these two postcard-size collections of period postcards, there truly exists a card for every occasion, even insurrection and mass warfare. Postcards From the Russian Revolution samples sights from three uprisings: 1905, February 1917 and October 1917. The images range from touristic photo ops (the Winter Palace) to royalist kitsch (family portraits of the Romanovs just four years before their fall) to miniature propaganda posters, both Czarist ("The soldiers at the front are dauntlessly holding the line against the enemy. ") and Marxist (a shot, possibly altered, of Lenin chatting up workers in Red Square). On the flipside of some cards we can read firsthand briefs from history, including a message penned a day after the emperor abdicated. The volume ends with a baby picture of a chubby-cheeked Lenin—who wouldn't want to find that in their mailbox? The Postcards From the Trenches tend to be a bit starker, although an air of optimism clings to posed images like "Tommies at Work," depicting British soldiers crouching in a verdant forest; a postcard in which French scouts roost in a bare-branched tree demonstrates how quickly the shelling reduced the landscape to rubble. A few colorful cards are designed for home-front morale boosting, but most are sepia-toned images of battle. A French card shows skulls and scattered helmets at Verdun. As the accompanying text comments, "It is difficult to imagine someone sending this postcard." (Introductions by Andrew Roberts; Bodleian Library, distributed by the University of Chicago Press; 96 pages/112 pages; $20 each, hardback)


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