This is ‘an entirely different book’ for the VRS.

It is the first collection of translations from Russian which the VRS has published in its 98-year history, which makes it the 9th language other than English from which a VRS volume has been translated. It is also the work of one of the youngest editors ever to produce a volume for us and one of the speediest.

Boris Gorelik, a scholar with a strong interest in Russian-South African contacts, approached us as recently as 2014 with the proposal for this book. I remember telling him then that it was unlikely that we could fit it into our publishing schedule for at least another 4 years, but that a finished ms. would always have an inside track if our plans changed unexpectedly.

Just a year ago they did indeed change unexpectedly, because of an acute illness in the family of the editor of our planned volume for 2015. When publication of this volume had to be postponed, Boris Gorelik stepped into the breach with aplomb, unfazed by deadlines . Within 6 weeks I had a finished ms. in my hands, with the bonus of some hitherto unknown contemporary sketches and paintings from the vaults of the Moscow State Library following soon afterwards. The rest is ….. history, and here, thanks to the combined efforts of Boris Gorelik, Cora Ovens and myself, the book designer Claudine Willard-Bate and PaarlMedia Printers is the end-product. It owes most to Boris’ zeal, willingness to heed advice and his unflagging commitment. His swift, full responses indicate a man who does not know down-time and is meticulous in following up leads. To this is added a flair for coming up with bright ideas as to how to publicize his work. From everything he does, it is very clear that not only is he a diligent history graduate of Moscow State University and the Russian Academy of Sciences, but also someone whose career has included time in the public relations profession.

Boris, it has been a great pleasure to collaborate with you and I congratulate you on bringing your idea to published fruition so successfully. In resurrecting the writings of the 9 Russian visitors, you have shown us not only another Cape Colony, but also striking insights into 19th Century Russian perceptions of the world and the ‘other’. To have the Cape Flats described as the ‘Cape Steppes’ and well-off Boland farmers as pometshiks (feudal landlords) are real eye-openers and horizon-broadeners. The VRS and host of readers in both South Africa and Russia thank you.

I can tell you the names of at least three of those readers, because I am going to present them with copies here and now for their respective roles (direct and indirect) in having made tonight’s launch possible:

  • Mr Roman Ambarov, consul-general of the Russian Federation, who represents his country, its 19th Century visitors to the Cape and their readers.
  • Dr Vasily Kaliazin, a locally resident Russian businessman, who provided a generous subsidy to allow us to reproduce 12 of the contemporary paintings and sketches by the visitors included in the book, two in striking, full colour.
  • Mr Emilton Cloete, principal of CTHS which adjoins this house, who kindly allowed us to borrow chairs and tables for tonight’s function and for whose school library this volume is destined. I hope that this donation to the school library will be well used by teachers and learners alike in the teaching of history to which the VRS is committed. Indeed, I hope that this will mark the beginning of a special two-way relationship with the school, in which we regularly donate a volume to supplement your history resources and in return your teachers (and even some learners) join the VRS at special scholar rates.
  • A fourth person deserves a copy of the book too, for he has contributed the most to tonight’s function, and that, of course, is Boris Gorelik. But as he already has a copy, I will now ask him to tell us about what is inside it and how it came to be there.