Author Catherine Merridale wins Pushkin Prize for her biography of the Kremlin

A “biography” of the Kremlin, one of Russia’s most mysterious and iconic buildings, has won a prestigious award that seeks to deepen understanding of the Russian speaking world.

Author Catherine Merridale, whose book has been hailed for its “sharp relevance to current issues,” first became interested in the culture after being forced to learn Russian at school as a punishment.  

Her book Red Fortress: The Secret Heart of Russia’s History tonight beat competition from five others on the shortlist to win the Pushkin House Russian Book Prize, and a cheque for £5,000. She called it an “enormous honour. It was an enormous honour just to be nominated”.

The winner, professor of contemporary history at Queen Mary, University of London, was awarded the prize by Rowan Williams for the book which goes behind the giant red walls that overlook Red Square and reveals the most startling events from over 800 years of Russian history.

The former Archbishop of Canterbury called the book “profoundly engaging” and said it offered “the kind of understanding we badly need at the moment”.

Prof Merridale has written four other books on Russian history including Night of Stone: Death and Memory in Russia, which was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize. 

“I studied victims for years in my previous work and people said I should study the torturers or interrogators,” she said. “I couldn’t face that, but I think to get at Russia, if you want to look at perpetrators, you need to look at the state.”

The Kremlin took its current, distinctive form in the 15th century under Ivan III (Getty) The Kremlin took its current, distinctive form in the 15th century under Ivan III (Getty)
On the current situation in Russia, she said: “I’m very upset and sad to see what’s happening now. One of the things I want to get across to people is that Russia is not the same from century to century. The Russia we’re seeing now is not the one of Stalin or Ivan the Terrible.”

“If Putin is going down well among the people for how he deals with the West, we should be more shocked and concerned to understand why that is happening.”

While researching the book, she built up an “idiosyncratic” picture of Putin from talking to interpreters who worked at the Kremlin.

Viv Groskop, one of the judges, said: “Red Fortress is about the Kremlin as an idea as well as a place itself. Buried just beneath the surface is a history of power of extraordinary relevance to what’s going on in Russia today.”

The author had “always been amazed” by the Kremlin from her first trip to Russia at the age of 18.

“Going from the then ghastly Soviet airport, everything in Moscow was grey and cold and hard,” she said. “Suddenly in the middle of the city were these golden cupolas and enormous redbrick walls with peculiar swallowtail battlement pattern that didn’t look Russian, but did at the same time.”

Her fascination with Russia started while she attended a state school in Andover. Her ease with studying French led to her being labelled disruptive in class. “They said, only half jokingly, ‘you need to be punished by learning another language’.” She chose Russian over German.

While studying for her MA and PhD she made numerous trips to Russia, and lived in Moscow for a year. While researching in the reading room of the Lenin Library she would gaze over the fortress.

She lived in the city the first year Mikhail Gorbachev was head of the Communist Party. “It was very exciting. Everything changed during that time,” Prof Merridale.

“When I started you couldn’t work in the archives, but a year later you could get the documents. It was amazing to go back and see the place change and change and change.”

Arts and Entertainment
Keith from The Office ten years on

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams prepares to enter the House of Black and White as Arya Stark in Game of Thrones season five

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Albert Hammond Junior of The Strokes performs at the Natural History Museum on July 6, 2006 in London, England.

music
Arts and Entertainment
Howard Mollison, as played by Michael Gambon
tv review
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush in The King's Speech

The best TV shows and films coming to the service

tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Muscling in: Noah Stewart and Julia Bullock in 'The Indian Queen'

opera
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

TV
Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003