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Charlotte Hobson's first book, Black Earth City, won a Somerset Maugham Award and was shortlisted for the Duff Cooper Prize and the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award. She lives in Cornwall with her husband, the writer Philip Marsden, and their two children.
Author photo © Melanie Eclare
Shortlisted for the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction 2017. An exuberant, kaleidoscopic debut set in the turbulent times around the 1917 Russian revolution, told through the eyes of an eighty-year-old Englishwoman recalling her youth. It's 1914 and, against the wishes of her family, young Gerty Freely goes to Moscow to work as a governess for the middle class Kobelov family. She experiences the city as a place of “unexpected joyfulness” and remains even after Russia declares war on Germany. When the Kobelovs leave the city, Gerty stays, and the family home becomes the base of the Institute of Revolutionary Transformation, spearheaded by charismatic inventor Nikita Slavin. The commune’s manifesto declares war on The Private, The Old and The Ego, and the group cultivates its own utopia, with Slavin (in fabulously full-on mad scientist mode) working to perfect his Propaganda Machine, and then the Socialisation Capsule, a device he claims will enable comrades to time travel to a utopian version of Now. As the crumbling outer world encroaches on the commune, Slavin vanishes. The question is, did the authorities remove him, or did he disappear into another space and time?Gerty is an immensely intriguing narrator, and her story is exhilaratingly original. Blending an extraordinary personal journey with fascinating, lightly worn historical detail, this is a triumph of a debut. ~ Joanne Owen The Walter Scott Judges said:‘Charlotte Hobson's The Vanishing Futurist fulfils the ultimate requirement of a historical novel: it inhabits a moment in history and in doing so illuminates recurring truths about the past, present and future. The moment in history is the Russian revolution and the avant-garde theories of community, art and science which it spawned. But the charismatic founder of a commune, and the evangelical zeal of its members, are recurring phenomena throughout history, from early Christian times to our own day. The narrator's voice, disciplined yet passionate, is a perfect vehicle for this fascinating novel, with its fast moving plot and characters who are so real that I found myself leafing through the book in the hope of finding their photographs.’
Richly observed, this witty and yet deeply moving tale of Charlotte Hobson's year travelling around Russia takes us to the heart of a country that we are continually interested in, yet can struggle to understand. As the TLS put it, Hobson writes with 'such a beguiling directness that it is hard not to feel intimate with her and her characters. Few books evoke so much of Russian life, with so little effort.' 'Each chapter is a bonne bouche, possessing its own particular flavour, from sweet to acrid-bitter. Hobson's characters are often wonderfully quixotic and so is the spirit she finds everywhere at this crux in Russia's history. She drinks with derelicts, hangs out with gypsies, and watches investigators go about the grim business of exhuming purge victims, and giving them the Christian burial they have been denied for seventy years. Her style is deft: she manages to render the scenes through which she passes with needle-sharp precision.' Financial Times
Each chapter is a bonne bouche, possessing its own particular flavour, from sweet to acrid-bitter. Hobson's characters are often wonderfully quixotic and so is the spirit she finds everywhere at this crux in Russia's history. She drinks with derelicts, hangs out with gypsies, and watches investigators go about the grim business of exhuming purge victims, and giving them the Christian burial they have been denied for seventy years. Her style is deft: she manages to render the scenes through which she passes with needle-sharp precision.' Financial TimesThis witty and yet deeply moving, acutely observed tale of Charlotte Hobson's year in Russia takes us to the heart of a country many of us continue to be fascinated by and struggle to understand. Or as the TLS put it: 'Hobson writes with such beguiling directness that it is hard not to feel intimate with her and her characters. Few books evoke so much of Russian life, with so little effort.
Now a BBC Radio 4 Book at Bedtime The debut novel from award-winning author of Black Earth City: A Year in the Heart of Russia. When twenty-two-year-old Gerty Freely travels to Russia to work as a governess in early 1914, she has no idea of the vast political upheavals ahead, nor how completely her fate will be shaped by them. In 1917, revolution sweeps away the Moscow Gerty knew. The middle classes - and their governesses - are fleeing the country, but she stays, throwing herself into an experiment in communal living led by charismatic inventor Nikita Slavkin, inspired by his belief in a future free of bourgeois clutter and alight with creativity. Yet the chaos and violence of the outside world cannot be withstood forever. Slavkin's sudden disappearance inspires the Soviet cult of the Vanishing Futurist, the scientist who sacrificed himself for the Communist ideal. Gerty, alone and vulnerable, must now discover where that ideal will ultimately lead. Strikingly vivid, this debut novel by award-winning writer Charlotte Hobson pierces the heart with a story of fleeting, but infinite possibility.
A young woman's heady encounter with the new Russia, as she and the country thrill to their first taste of freedomIt is September 1991 and the dismantling of the Soviet Union is under way. In Voronezh, a provincial town famous for its loamy black earth, a sense of lightheartedness-part fear, part exhilaration-pervades. The people conquer uncertainty, hunger, and -20 degree temperatures by drinking huge quantities of black-market vodka and reveling in their new-found sexual freedom.Black Earth City is Charlotte Hobson's record of this tumultuous time. An irresistible guide, she brings us into the cramped, rundown Hostel no. 4, where international students and locals congregate. We meet Yakov, who blows half-a-million rubles on a taxi to see a girl in Minsk; Lola, who sleeps with her peers for a share of their dinner; Viktor, with his brutal memories of military service; and Mitya, Hobson's wild and optimistic lover whose gradual disillusion-and dissolution-mirrors his country's dramatic lurch from euphoria to despair.At once loving and sharp-edged, tender and brave, Black Earth City reveals a world and a woman as they open up to life.