Ivan Goncharov and the Imperial Horizons of The Frigate Pallada
This review examines Edyta M. Bojanowska’s new book on Ivan Goncharov’s voyage to Japan and his subsequent travelogue, The Frigate Pallada. In 1852, Goncharov set sail for Japan from St Petersburg in the hope of opening up the reclusive Asian nation for Russian trade. Along the way, he visited London, the Cape colony in South Africa, and numerous ports in Southeast Asia. After visiting China, Japan, and Korea, he landed in Ayan, from whence he travelled back to the imperial capital over land. The account he wrote about his experiences became an instant classic, although the lack of good translations means that it is virtually unknown in the English-speaking world. In her work, Bojanowska examines both The Frigate Pallada as a text and the history of Russia’s expedition to Japan. Strongly criticising the Soviet philological tradition which saw Goncharov’s work as an anti-colonial text, she argues that the famous Russian writer sought to justify the expansion of Russian and other European empires in Africa, Asia, and Siberia. Nonetheless, Goncharov’s book reflects peculiarly Russian traditions of understanding empire and colonialism: equally, she posits, his work does not (and cannot) present a cohesive system of thought, but a ‘kaleidoscopic’ series of impressions that sometimes contradict The Frigate Pallada’s general themes.
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