The White Birch
The birch, genus Betula, is one of the northern hemisphere's most widespread and easily recognisable trees. A pioneer species, the birch is also Russia's unofficial national emblem, and in this book art critic Tom Jeffreys sets out to grapple with the riddle of Russianness through numerous journeys, encounters, histories and artworks that all share one thing in common: the humble birch tree. We visit Catherine the Great's garden follies and Tolstoy's favourite chair; walk through the Chernobyl exclusion zone and among overgrown concrete bunkers in Vladivostok; spend a drunken night in Moscow with art-activists Pussy Riot, all the time questioning the role played by Russia's vastly diverse landscapes in forming and imposing national identity. And vice-versa: how has Russia's dramatically shifting self-image informed the way its people think about nature, land and belonging?