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WALL TO WALL: From Beijing to Berlin...

WALL TO WALL: From Beijing to Berlin by Rail by Mary Morris (Penguin: $10.). In a grandly romantic gesture, travel writer Mary Morris decided to ride the famed Trans-Siberian Express from Beijing to Moscow in 1986. Her real destination was the Ukraine: She hoped to explore the region north of Kiev for her ancestors’ homes, including the yard where her great-grandmother buried her children alive in shallow graves (they had to breathe through reeds), to hide them from marauding Cossacks. But 1986 was the year of the Chernobyl disaster, and Morris found herself stranded in Moscow, where the American embassy staff and Soviet citizens warned her of the danger that existed in the Ukraine, despite governmental assurances that the radiation had been contained. The six intervening years have turned Morris’ travelogue into a curious historical document: The Tiananmen Square Massacre ended the period of relative liberalism she witnessed in China; the Berlin Wall has been razed, and the Commonwealth of Nations has replaced the Soviet Union. (Recent alarming disclosures have revealed the extent of both the devastation at Chernobyl and the Soviet government’s disinformation campaign.) Morris’ personal impressions of that vanished world seem both immediate and dated.


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