Laura J. Olson and Svetlana Adonyeva, “The Worlds of Russian Village Women: Tradition, Transgression, Compromise” (U. Wisconsin Press, 2013)

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The Worlds of Russian Village Women: Tradition, Transgression, Compromise (University of Wisconsin Press, 2013) by Laura J. Olson and Svetlana Adonyeva casts a new look at the traditional representation of Russian women and village life in scholarship. Grounding the imagery of a Russian woman in the network of her relationship with her family and the larger community, Olson and Adonyeva show how age and gender shape village communities and traditional lifestyle. Previously, Olson and Adonyeva argue, women have been excluded from the folklore tradition mainly because their performances took place in private rather than public setting, and thus were either not accessible for, or discounted in scholarship. The private character of these performances, however, endows women with a larger agency in preserving and negotiating tradition. Through the discussions of aspects and practices of village life as marriage and courtship, death, memory, motherhood, magic, or singing over the course of three generations, the images of Russian village woman arise as very different from their habitual depiction as “victims of oppressive patriarchy.” Olson and Adonyeva employ a broad analytical framework relying on a set of tools of anthropology, folklore studies, linguistics, psychology and literature studies to recover the previously silenced female voices and tell a fascinating story which challenges our understanding of the lives and societal roles of Russian women.
Olga Breininger is a PhD candidate in Slavic and Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University. Her research interests include post-Soviet culture and geopolitics, with a special focus on Islam, nation-building, and energy politics. Olga is the author of the novel There Was No Adderall in the Soviet Union and columnist at Literratura.
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