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Lisa Goes to Russia

Lisa Goes to Russia was first published in 1963. It is now out of print.


Story | Background | Thoughts | Editions and Availability

Story

Lisa Petrov and her brothers (Paul and Charles) live in Harrow, with their parents. However, their family originally came from Russia: Great-grandfather Serge and Great-grandmother Anna came to England during the Russian Revolution.

Lisa's father is a works for a newspaper, and one day they tell him that they are sending him to Moscow. Because Mother cannot look after the two boys and Lisa on her own, Father decides to let Lisa come with him, and stay with their relatives in Moscow.

In Moscow, Lisa stays with Cousin Sasha, his wife Tamara, and the children Olga, Vassily, Oleg, Anna, Yuri, Grisha, Christina, Ludmilla and Lydia. Grisha is the same age as Lisa, and they become good friends. When Lisa's father has to go to Leningrad, he takes Lisa and Grisha with him; and later the family also goes to Kiev.

Background

In 1960, Noel visited Russia for three weeks, to visit Russian ballet schools. Unfortunately, she was given poor information by Russian tourist officials, and

arrived in June when the schools had closed for the summer. The trip was not a success. She tried to be tolerant as, day after day, arrangements she thought she had made were changed or muddled by the authorities, when food was inedible, and the thin trickle of bath water was icy, but the constant frustrations were exhausting. (Bull, 1984:231)

However, the trip was not wasted. Noel kept a diary while she was there, and was able to draw on it and write "six articles for The Elizabethan ... on Russian schools and young people, two for the Nursery World about Russian baby care, and ... Lisa Goes to Russia" (Bull, 1984:231).

Thoughts

(This section contains "spoilers" for those who have not read the book.)

In Noel's best books, although we learn a great deal (about ballet, tennis, filmmaking, etc), the story is nevertheless driven primarily by the characters. As Noel said of White Boots, "of course just skating by itself would not make a book, so from the very beginning I had invented Lalla and Harriet" (Radio Times article, cited in Wilson, 1961:35). In Lisa Goes to Russia the reverse seems to be the case. The characters are flat and underdeveloped, and their main role is to take us through a gallery of Russian cultural icons - a children's festival, a wedding, the markets, the Bolshoi ballet, the circus, and so on. However, this does not necessarily mean that in this case Noel felt that Russia on its own would make a book. Lisa Goes to Russia seems to be written for a slightly younger audience (the main character is only nine years old), and superficial characterisation does seem to be a feature of other of Noel's books for younger readers, such as The Grey Family and Bertram.

Although she occasionally tries to argue that the English way is better, Lisa generally accepts and enjoys the different lifestyle she experiences in Russia. She is far more accepting of its inconveniences than Noel seems to have been - certainly, she is far more enthusiastic about the food! However, as Nancy Huse points out, "on the whole ... the book is decidedly Anglocentric. Descriptions of crowded apartments, "ugly" lamps, and slow travel reflect some of Streatfeild's disagreeable experiences in the country" (1994:117). It does seem that the reader is encouraged to take a somewhat superior attitude towards the Russians. Grisha is presented as less open-minded about other cultures than his cousin - "Inside, he had decided English little girls were stupidly brought up" (Lisa Goes to Russia, 1963:38-39) - and the gives the reader a comfortable sense that they are more knowledgeable, and they have a better way of life, than the Russians.

Editions and Availability

UK Editions

Lisa Goes to Russia was first published by Collins in 1963, with illustrations by Geraldine Spence. (I have found a record of another 1963 Collins printing, with illustrations by Anna Zinkeisen: however, this may be an error.)

US Editions

There does not seem to have been a US edition of Lisa Goes to Russia.

Out of Print

Lisa Goes to Russia is out of print and very rare. In February 2004, the only second hand copy I can find listed by an online bookseller costs around 100. (Source: Addall Used and Out of Print Book Search.)

 


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© 1963 Noel Streatfeild

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