When a devastating famine descended on Bolshevik Russia in 1921, the United States responded with a massive two-year relief campaign that battled starvation and disease and saved millions of lives. By summer 1922, American kitchens were feeding nearly 11 million Soviet citizens a day. At the time, the rescue operation was hailed as “the beau geste of the twentieth century.” Today, it is all but forgotten.
A new book, The Big Show in Bololand: The American Relief Expedition to Soviet Russia
in the Famine of 1921, resurrects this epic tale in the form of a sprawling narrative history. It is, above all, an American adventure story, set in exotic Bololand, as the relief workers called Bolshevik Russia. These Americans were a colorful mix of former doughboys, cowboys, and college boys, most of the hungry for adventure in the wake of the Great War. The book draws extensively on their diaries, memoirs, and private letters located in the Hoover Institution Archives.