by Joseph Loubat
It’s a nineteenth century travel account, so one has to go into this book with a different level of tolerance for generalization, arbitrary detail, bias and sheer boredom. Even by the standards of such things, on an aesthetic level this work is extremely tedious. Loubat either has the natural soul of a bureaucrat or made a special effort to restrain himself from interesting layout of his account. The setup of the work seems like it would lend itself to more intense encounters, featuring an assassination attempt against the tsar followed by an American diplomatic mission to express sympathy and build ties. However the minutely specified perpsective, the endless listing, the continual droning of detail makes for a very slow and weakly energized flow of events. In any measure the array of political leaders, blandly benevolent speeches and banquets would probably grate, but the issue is exacerabated by the nonreaction the author has to events and the continual insistence on the most mechanical aspects of the story.
On the historical plane the text has value, but it’s not breathtakingly unique by any means. The ongoing refusal by the author to provide wider reflection, to offer larger analysis or political exploration, makes the book rather limited in its wider claims or sociological usefulness as travel literature. It’s most interesting as a reflection on how heavily it tries to set up the argument for a natural affinity and alliance between nineteenth century Russia and the United States, the way extensive differences in culture and politics are either ignored or reinterpreted as a potential for mutual trust and compatability. The whole piece is an indication of the fluidity of strategic politics and the way a government tries to hedge that by grandiose diplomatic claims, and watching the expedition proceed itself out indicates both the focus often involved in this effort and its fundamentally chimeric nature.