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The White Birch

Paperback / ISBN-13: 9781472155665

Price: £10.99

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‘A beautiful and profound meditation on the way landscape shapes art and life. I was entranced by The White Birch, a book that comes close to encapsulating the vast enigma of Russia in the form of a single tree’ Alex Preston, author of Winchelsea and As Kingfishers Catch Fire

The birch. Genus Betula. One of the northern hemisphere’s most widespread and easily recognisable trees, and Russia’s unofficial national emblem.

From Catherine the Great’s garden follies and Tolstoy’s favourite chair to the Chernobyl exclusion zone and drunken nights in Moscow, art critic Tom Jeffreys leads us across Russia’s diverse land to understand its dramatically shifting identity. As we walk through lost landscapes, discover historic artworks, explore the secret online world of Russian brides, and relive encounters between some of Russia’s greatest artists and writers, we uncover a myriad of overlapping meanings surrounding the humble birch tree.

Curious, resonant and idiosyncratic, The White Birch is a unique collection of journeys that grapples with the riddle of Russianness.

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Reviews

With elegance, humour, and deep insight . . . The White Birch is a daring, at once sympathetic and critical, experiment in interpreting how national identity is entwined with a tree. More than a book, it is a mirror and a magnifying glass, through which to observe the all-too-human and the other-than-human worlds, as well as, of course, ourselves
Michael Marder, author of Plant-Thinking and The Chernobyl Herbarium
I love the kind of book that The White Birch is. Not just for what it says and how it says it, but for the fields it unrools in order to find those things and for the journey across the unravelling plains . . . Symbols do plenty of work in Tom Jeffreys' book and he is expert in understanding them, tracking down how they dodge and change. The White Birch is an adventure story that combines the thrills of an intellectual howdunnit with visceral ordeals.
Phil Smith, Mythogeography
The White Birch may be an ostensible study of a single species of tree. But as shown, it's a lot more ambitious. Jeffreys positions himself as an obsessive slavophile and a blundering botanist, rather than a world authority on Russia. Who could be such a thing!? As a result one is very happy to enjoy this self-reflexive journey, some most erudite travel writing about a most fascinating land.
criticismism ii
I loved the grafting of travel/art/cultural and social history in this engaging foray into Russia and Russianness . . . Although I've never been, by the end of this book, I felt as if I had. Tom Jeffreys is a great noticer of telling detail and brings a capacious understanding and deftness of touch to a narrative that feels to get under the skin/bark of a place and give it its distinction
Jane Feaver, author of Crazy
A natural-political exploration of Russian relationships with the birch tree across past, present, and future. Moving from the Tsarina's garden to the Soviet Gulag, from Chernobyl to Lake Baikal, The White Birch is elegant and intrepid, like its subject
Daisy Hildyard, author of The Second Body and Hunters in the Snow
The White Birch is a wonderful book: at once an idiosyncratic personal journey and an erudite and clear-eyed critical study. Jeffreys is a deeply human writer and a smart and honest critic who here, splitting the timber of the Russian birch, finds his way deep into the Russian idea of Russia
Richard Smyth, author of The Woodcock and An Indifference of Birds
Fascinating . . . The White Birch was a welcome surprise of a book, not just exploring nature but also this vast and complex country that so few of us in the west only glimpse from the outside and a must for anyone with an interest in Russian history
Ian Tatum, Pilgrim House
I love this book. Jeffreys admits he doesn't know where he's going at every turn, but trusts his instinct - and his ear for a good story - as he tries to untangle myth from fact . . . This is the great joy of The White Birch
Mark Hooper, Caught by the River
'Genuinely revelatory'
Sophy Richards, TLS
There could be no better guide through the thickets of meaning, history and imagery that entangle with the birch tree than figurative forester Tom Jeffreys
Melissa McCarthy, author of Sharks Death Surfers
A beautiful and profound meditation on the way landscape shapes art and life. I was entranced by The White Birch, a book that comes close to encapsulating the vast enigma of Russia in the form of a single tree
Alex Preston, author of Winchelsea and As Kingfishers Catch Fire