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.”

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent