Here’s a short list of what formed my impressions of Russia. My earliest images would be Boris Badenov and Natasha Nogoodnik on the Rocky and Bullwinkle show.
The Cuban missile crisis and Nikita Khrushchev’s banging his shoe when I was 10. My dad taking me out in the backyard at night to see Sputnik crossing the sky. There was always the background cultural noise of Cold War saber rattling.
When I traveled and lived in Europe in my twenties, I read the biographies and autobiographies of writers. The diaries of Sophia, Tolstoy’s wife, left a strong impression on me, as did Nabokov’s memoir, Speak Memory. I didn’t get around to reading Russian novels until I fell in love with Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Chekhov in college, around age 28. Around the same time I read about the Greats, Catherine and Peter, the doomed Romanovs, and lusty Rasputin.
There were the Bond movie super villains, including the reptilian Rosa Krebs. Oh, and of course Dr Zhivago, of which I only dimly recall troikas in the snow and throbbing balalaika music.
I watched the movie REDS more than once, mostly for the writer-on-writer love. Skip ahead to Mugatu’s Russian henchwoman, Katinka, in Zoolander, and back to this little gem from the 1980s https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5CaMUfxVJVQ and that’s about it for me.
I’ve got a stack of TBR history, biography and literature that’s Russian-centric, plus some audio lectures on literature that I’m loving. I gave Gogol’s Dead Souls (as interpreted by Monty Python alumni) a listen. I’m currently switching back and forth between biographies of Peter the Great and Great Catherine, by Carolly Erickson.
Looking forward to having my childhood notions and literary preconceptions replaced with actual experience.