Page 328. " parodying the words of Voltaire "
Voltaire by Catherine Lusurier
Public DomainVoltaire by Catherine Lusurier

 Voltaire famously said that "if God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him." 

'Voltaire' was the pen name of Francois Marie Arouet (1694 - 1778) a hugely influential French Enlightenment writer and philosopher. His work influenced the people who took part in both the French and the American Revolutions. After being exiled from France for his satirical writings, Voltaire lived for a time in England, where he was attracted to the work of philosopher John Locke and the scientist Isaac Newton. After his return to France he continued to be persecuted by the government for his reformist ideas, although he corresponded with other monarchs including Catherine the Great of Russia and Frederick the Great of Prussia.

Page 331. " the resounding strains of the Polonaise "

The Polonaise is a slow dance originating from Poland: hence the name. It has three beats in the bar, like a waltz. Chopin wrote a great many famous Polonaises, such as the Polonaise Fantasie No. 7 in A Flat (Listen to it on Spotify.) It was also widely used by Russian composers. The dance is commonly used at celebratory events; for example, in Poland, the Polonaise is always the first dance at the graduation ball which celebrates the end of high school.  

Page 332. " both the lenten and the other fare "
Russian icon of Christ the Pantocrator
Public DomainRussian icon of Christ the Pantocrator


 Both the Orthodox and the Western churches observe Lent, a forty-day fast preceding Easter. In the Orthodox tradition this is known as Great Lent to distinguish it from other fasts. Dietary restrictions are observed, which forbid meat, fish and dairy products: essentially a vegan diet is observed during this time. Dancing, alcohol, and sex are also off limits. However, not everyone would observe Lent, so two kinds of food are on offer at this banquet.

Page 332. " a gigantic sterlet "
Public DomainSterlet


Sterlets are a smaller form of sturgeon found in Europe. They can be farmed for caviar, or to be eaten. Although they are smaller than sturgeon, they can still grow up to 125 cm (4 ft). They are now considered a threatened species.

Page 348. " one window frame was removed "

Most Russian houses had double windows to protect against the intense cold of the Russian winter. In the autumn, a secondary window frame is fixed over the window to shut out any draughts, and a general draught-proofing operation is performed on the house. It was customary to place salt in between the two window panes in order to absorb moisture, reducing condensation.