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Natasha Dissanayake’s wonderful book, «Русские судьбы в Лондоне» // “Russian Destinies in London” was published (in Russian) in 2017. It is a real treasure-trove for anyone who is interested in learning about the experience of Russian émigrés in London over the last five centuries – and their contribution to art, ballet, music and thought in the United Kingdom. In view of the wealth of material in the book, we thought it would be interesting for members to hear Natasha talk to us about her book, and to give members the opportunity of buying this unique encyclopaedia of the lives and fates of Russian émigrés in London. Copies of the book will be on sale at KCL.

Natasha Dissanayake’s book is the result of some 20 years of meticulous research and was compiled from interviews, observations, published and unpublished memoirs and wider literature. As with those Russians who fled their homeland in October 1917 and settled in Paris, the individual fates of the émigrés varied tremendously. The great majority understandably found it difficult to adapt to the way of life in a new country, to its different customs and traditions and to a new language. This comes across in the book, which features a wide range and variety of Russian characters – from members of the Russian Imperial family and aristocrats to revolutionaries, rebels, philosophers, writers, scientists, musicians and artists, and diplomats, clergymen, athletes and soldiers. In her illustrated talk Natasha Dissanayake will tell us about some of the more colourful ones. These include the godfather of Queen Victoria; a dancer who became an undying symbol of ballet; a diplomat whose difficulties with his creditors led to the passing by Parliament of the Diplomatic Privileges Act 1708 (the first time diplomatic immunity in the UK was put on to a statutory basis); the first female President of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons; two inmates at Brixton prison who later became Ministers in their homeland; and an “iron woman” who conquered the hearts of two outstanding writers of the 20th century

Natasha Dissanayake, who is a long-standing member of the Society and known to many of us, is a Muscovite born and bred. She taught Russian language and literature at a High School in Moscow and then worked as an editor at the Progress Publishing House. Natasha came to live in England in 1972. For several years she taught Russian in schools and colleges and for 38 years ran the Sutton Russian Circle very successfully. In the 1990s she regularly travelled to Kazakhstan over a nine-year period interpreting for a major petroleum project. Natasha is a highly-respected authority on Russian ballet and has on countless occasions interpreted for the Bolshoi, Mariinsky and other Russian companies on their tours of Britain. As a member of the British Guild of Tourist Guides since 1988 Natasha also worked as a Blue Badge tourist guide. It was during this work that she started her research into the fate of Russian émigrés in London.

At this event

Tanya Linaker

Team Leader for Slavic and Middle Eastern Languages

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