Indian readers will be familiar with french journalist Dominique Lapierre from the epic book that he co authored with Collins, Freedom at Midnight, which is a retelling of the events that culminated in Indian Independence. Once Upon A Time In Soviet Union is his book about a journey that he undertook decades through then Soviet Union to get a first hand experience of the life of commoners behind the iron curtain as Soviet Russia was known then.
Year was 1956 and Lapierre told the ace photographer of the newspaper where he works, Jean Pierre Pedrazzini about a plan to travel in Communist China, a road trip in a motor car without any official interference. Later they changed the location from China to Khrushchev's USSR. Then a number of coincidences made the plan working and soon they found themselves accompanied by their wives in a car crossing Soviet border. Slava was a Russian journalist allotted to accompany them along with his wife. And thus started a life changing journey. Equipped with perfumes and miniature Eiffel Towers, the French couples were a hit in Russia, with people thronging around wherever they went. One main reason is the car, as many Russians had never seen a car with more than one color in their entire life time. They spends time with many common Russian men and women, doctors, laborers, peasants and waiters to know what kind of life they are undergoing. And to be fair, it gives a neutral account of the state of things there.
The pathetic state of country's roads and infrastructure and the non availability of good fuel mars the pleasantness of the journey many times. The interactions with the Russian couple reveals the sad state of a propaganda driven ruling that existed a the times. Excellent photographs by Pedrazzini contributes to the reading pleasure.