Midnight in Nowheresville: 24hrs in a motorway service station

"For the skeleton staff of chefs, baristas and shop assistants, the night shift is for coulda-shoulda-woulda reveries: reminiscences about bad breaks, wrong turns and temporary exigencies that somehow became permanent"

The Odessaphiles: On the literary museum in Odessa (from Intelligent Life)

"Embracing the transients and flâneurs, this is, in effect, a museum of Russian literature. And, being Russian, it becomes a museum of censorship and repression as well as art: of genius and bravery, blood and lies."

That dear old oak in Georgia: Murder and memory

"The case bears witness to the tenacity of the past-at once inescapable and intractable-and asks whether memory always illuminates the present, or rather sometimes poisons it."

Fournier Street: One roof, many histories

"Like the Huguenots and Jews before them, the Bangladeshis have been lambasted for stealing jobs, poor hygiene, monopolising housing and spongeing from the state."

The cult of the gym

"In the end, gym-attendance, like most popular religions, probably has something to do with fear of death and the quest for immortality-as if a well-toned body could somehow stave off the day of judgment. Which, unfortunately, is just another way in which it is liable to lead to disappointment."

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A Winter's Tale: Snow in Moscow

"The winter and the snow reveal hidden aspects of modern Russia: the superpower status it still retains among its neighbours; the desperation that lurks beneath the oil-fuelled glitz; the brutality, lawlessness and all-permeating corruption."

Democracy à la russe

"'Are you going to beat us all?', an old woman asked an officer in battle gear, as protesters were funnelled away from tourists on NevskyProspekt. Shortly afterwards they did."

The Tycoon and the President: the Khodorkovsky case

"Mikhail Khodorkovsky made more money more quickly than almost anyone in history. Then—somehow—he incurred Mr Putin's wrath."

Kama Sutra and Feral Cats: On Russian airports

"The bags circulate on a terrifying metal device apparently borrowed from a medieval torture chamber...The arrivals hall still has a faint abattoir feel...Last year a family of bears wandered onto the runway."

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Love the sinner: among the Southern Baptists

"The tale of Eric Hankins and the First Baptist Church is a sad story with a happy ending, and vice versa."

Moveable feasts: halal meat in Alabama

"The voice at the other end of the line wanted a lamb. Might Frank Randle have an intact male animal that he was willing to sell?"

Some people got away alright: ten years after Katrina

"The tragedy of Katrina has an unpredictably upbeat ending, just not for everyone."

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On the Olympics: Glory and hope

"Like people going sheepishly back to work after a boisterous office party, perhaps most Britons will soon eschew the rewards of pride for the safer pleasures of self-deprecation, and refrain from talking to strangers, except about the rain. But so what?"

The names of London

"Londongrad was a metropolis of lunatic house prices and multiplying restaurants, ornamented by rich foreigners and serviced by poor ones."

Cameron's Ransom: the Tories and Europe

"If this shoddy, shaming alliance is the price he was obliged to pay his party for the changes needed to make it seem modern and compassionate, what sort of party is it that Mr Cameron leads? What else will its members demand, and what else—when his popularity and authority wane—will he be obliged to give them, after he becomes prime minister?"

Friendship in the Google age (from the Evening Standard)

"The past is back: the ancient, pre-internet history we never expected to see again, miraculously recoverable, peopled by the resurrected dead."

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W.G. Sebald: Notes on a Voice (from Intelligent Life)

"This is a style that tries to unbury the dead through syntax."

Why western authors are in love with Mother Russia (from the Observer)

"Russia has for centuries been a distorting, fairground mirror for the west. It is both like and unlike the tamer nations..."

Book of a lifetime: Gogol's Overcoat (from the Independent)

"He exemplifies the magical Russian talent for writing in different registers, literal and symbolic, at the same time."

My hero: Isaac Babel (from the Guardian)

"As much as any writer I know, Babel transmuted journalism into art."

Goodbye to all that: On Ian Jack's journalism

"This is not a political book; it is elegiac rather than nostalgic. Mr Jack's real interests are time and memory."

Stalin's children: on The Whisperers

"There are incredible reunions in this book, achieved through impossible stamina and ingenuity. But there are also homecomings as terrible in their way as exile."

I witness: Andrei Kurkov's diaries

"Increasingly this carnage crowds out the author's personal life, though there is a nice vignette in which his daughter asks for extra pocket money, citing the spiralling inflation."

The Man Without a Face: Masha Gessen's Putin (from the Daily Telegraph)

"Actually, the face is quite distinctive: the weaselly features, apparently sharpened by cosmetic surgery; the smile that is really a threat; the misleading eyes, able somehow to seem both doleful and menacing – and, famously, to persuade George Bush that he had glimpsed his interlocutor's soul."

Mafia State by Luke Harding (from the Guardian)

"Like a yob who starts a fight in a pub by saying you have spilled his pint, the Russians offered pretexts that both parties knew were ludicrous."

The Russian cross: Oliver Bullough's The Last Man in Russia (from the Literary Review)

"In House of Meetings, a novel of the Gulag that takes a percipient interest in Slavic demography, Martin Amis calls the phenomenon the 'Russian cross': the steep downward lurch of the country's birth rate, intersecting with an upward leap in the death rate, which together have caused a population shrinkage more suggestive of war or plague than of a developed nation largely at peace."

Red Notice by Bill Browder (from the Spectator)

"This, after all, is a country of lurid metamorphoses, in which liberals turn into ultranationalists, KGB men become oil barons, murderers enter parliament, and, in Browder’s case, a fellow-travelling financier morphed into an implacable human rights activist."

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Correspondent's diaries

A Blood-Red Fairy Tale: Leaving Russia

"Silver birch trees in the winter sunlight. Long evenings of effusive toasting. The camaraderie of overnight train rides."

The road to Morocco

"Whatever else it is, a holiday like ours, I realise, is also a sort of safari of pain…So much cleaned-up blood and forgotten loss."

Country pleasures: Russia in winter

"Occasionally the angry mêlée parts, like the seas of Egypt, for the lord of the Russian highway: the migalka, a flashing blue car light that is supposedly reserved for top officials, but which, like most other privileges, has long been available on the open market."

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