Books: Russia Under the Volcano

THE RUSSIAN EMPIRE: A PORTRAIT IN PHOTOGRAPHS by Chloe Obolensky; Random House; 345 pages; $24.95

In a typical 19th century Russian novel, "We open the door and find ourselves in a room full of Russian Generals," said Virginia Woolf, who evidently failed to read on. Just as disconcerting is the immediate impression created by the pictures of prerevolutionary Russians in this remarkable book. Some have an aura that seems to owe more to taxidermy than to photography. In some respects, no medium was less appropriate for chronicling old Russia than the primitive camera. The...

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