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Travels with NPR host David Greene along the Trans-Siberian Railroad capture an overlooked, idiosyncratic Russia in the age of Putin

Far away from the trendy cafés, designer boutiques, and political protests and crackdowns in Moscow, the real Russia exists.

Midnight in Siberia chronicles David Greene’s journey on the Trans-Siberian Railway, a six-thousand-mile cross-country trip from Moscow to the Pacific port of Vladivostok. In quadruple-bunked cabins and stopover towns sprinkled across the country’s snowy landscape, Greene speaks with ordinary Russians about how their lives have changed in the post-Soviet years.

These travels offer a glimpse of the new Russia—a nation that boasts open elections and newfound prosperity but continues to endure oppression, corruption, a dwindling population, and stark inequality.

We follow Greene as he finds opportunity and hardship embodied in his fellow train travelers and in conversations with residents of towns throughout Siberia.

We meet Nadezhda, an entrepreneur who runs a small hotel in Ishim, fighting through corrupt layers of bureaucracy every day. Greene spends a joyous evening with a group of babushkas who made international headlines as runners-up at the Eurovision singing competition. They sing Beatles covers, alongside their traditional songs, finding that music and companionship can heal wounds from the past. In Novosibirsk, Greene has tea with Alexei, who runs the carpet company his mother began after the Soviet collapse and has mixed feelings about a government in which his family has done quite well. And in Chelyabinsk, a hunt for space debris after a meteorite landing leads Greene to a young man orphaned as a teenager, forced into military service, and now figuring out if any of his dreams are possible.

Midnight in Siberia is a lively travel narrative filled with humor, adventure, and insight. It opens a window onto that country’s complicated relationship with democracy and offers a rare look into the soul of twenty-first-century Russia.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “In this picaresque story of adventure, David Greene reaches beyond Putin’s Kremlin across Siberia to show us Russian life in the raw…A storyteller with a human touch, Greene finds Russians tested by tragedy and war as he joins them in their cramped apartments, jammed trains, and gulping beer and pickled horse sausage in their steam baths, facing an uncertain future with an unexpected streak of inner wildness.”

    Hedrick Smith, New York Times bestselling author of The New Russians

  • “Describe[s] the Russia of the vast interior…An impressionistic book, a book about people along the way.”

    Seattle Times

  • “When NPR’s Moscow Bureau chief David Greene traveled across Russia on the Trans-Siberian Railroad, he wasn’t in search of tundra and polar bears. He was searching for men and women who could give him a fresh sense of Putin’s ‘New Russia.’ With its numerous stops and stay-overs, his 6,000-mile journey did just that, introducing him to scores of ordinary Russians who spoke freely about how their lives had changed in the post-Soviet years. Midnight in Siberia truly qualifies as a travel essay that delivers far, far more than local color.”

    Barnes&Noble.com, editorial review

  • “Greene’s journey enables him to get past the headlines and provide insightful observations about the politics and culture of Russia today.”

    Library Journal (starred review)

  • “[A] travelogue that reads like a series of episodic radio pieces in the NPR style, a collage of Green’s interviews and insights from scholars about Russian history that attempts to answer a few difficult questions: what do the Russians want? Why do they tolerate a corrupt and restrictive government?..What Greene finds is complex and frequently contradictory but all the more thought provoking…Despite the poverty and repression he frequently encounters, Greene remains optimistic throughout his travels, and he reproduces the source of this conviction in this collection of vignettes.”

    Publishers Weekly

  • “A former Russia correspondent for NPR ends his gig by taking a train across Siberia, generating new experiences and remembering earlier ones…a journey that is personal and emotional, both actual and metaphorical…Glowing in its profound affection for the Russian people, an affection Greene convinces readers to share.”

    Kirkus Reviews

  • “Greene is a great storyteller, and what a story he has to tell. A fascinating and thought-provoking journey deep into Russia’s physical vastness and soul. Greene’s landscape is inhabited by a cast of characters that light up both and would have made Anton Chekhov proud. A first-rate tale that puts you aboard the Trans-Siberian Railroad on the journey of a lifetime.”

    Aaron David Miller, author of The End of Greatness

  • “Beautifully written…The sharply observed vignettes, combined with the moving, elegiac quality of the prose make it a hard book to put down. David Greene’s travels provide insights and context for some of the more dramatic recent events in Russia that will appeal to both the casual traveler and the seasoned observer.”

    Fiona Hill, coauthor of Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin

  • “Greene’s narration is reflective and pleasantly relaxed…Greene is able to impart additional emotion to the stories where appropriate, having lived through the experiences firsthand or listened directly to the people telling their stories. The result is an eye-opening look at modern-day Russia and the Russian character, both in the big cities and in the countryside.”

    AudioFile

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About the Author

David Greene is NPR’s morning programming host and correspondent. In this role he is the primary substitute host for Morning Edition as well as Weekend Edition Saturday and Weekend Edition Sunday. When he is not hosting he brings his deep reporting talents to these programs.