It’s 1988 in the USSR and Magali Koenig is walking alone in Moscow, three days before taking the Trans-Siberian Express. She sees men and women as grey as their overcoats, small figures walking down the wide avenues. The Bolshoi Theatre with its curtain heavy with hundreds of hammers and sickles embroidered on the red velvet. A restaurant for the rich, with an orchestra for dancing, glasses of red wine that tastes of cherries, champagne to encourage the dancing, faster and faster to forget the past. She doesn’t know it yet, but these three days in Moscow will determine the sense of her journeys.
“Surrounding these photographs are noises, smells, encounters, memories and little stories.”
Alexandre Radichtchev et le livre masqué. Voyage de Pétersbourg à Moscou
Alexandre Radishchev was born in 1749 into a family of the lower nobility near Saratov. It was the century of the Enlightenment, of Voltaire, Diderot and Tsarina Catherine II, most commonly known as Catherine the Great. In 1768, Catherine II sent Alexander Radichtchev to the University of Leipzig.
At the age of 19, he learns languages, economics, philosophy and law. On his return to Russia, he is favoured by Catherine II, who awards him prestigious posts. He becomes rich and noble and does not like it at all. He will very quickly become imbued with the value and importance of the “idea of law” and make this idea his hobbyhorse to denounce the Russian autocrats, who are very rich and ruthless.
Within this book, which is like a bucolic travel story, a call for revolution is hidden. All the stories denounce the abuse of the rich landowners and also cover extreme poverty, arranged marriages, floggings and badly treated serfs.
He thus wrote a book of 25 chapters with the names of the 25 places he passed through on his journey. 700 km separate St-Petersburg from Moscow: Magali wants to follow Alexander Radichtchev’s route, take the time to travel at the same speed as him, and tell him about the changes, hundreds of churches, forests and lakes. Nobody knows if Alexander really made this trip, Magali Koenig would like to do it for him.
Alexandre Radishchev takes 10 years to write his book and cannot find a publisher. After reading it, Catherine II feels extremely betrayed and condemns Radichtchev to death. Her sentence will be reduced to 10 years in prison in Siberia. Released after 6 years, he returned to St. Petersburg and committed suicide on September 12, 1802 at the age of 53.
Alexandre Radishchev is considered to be the first Russian revolutionary.