It’s perhaps one of history’s funny accidents that relations between the U.S. and Russia were changed not by one, but two, George Kennans. Decades before George F. Kennan wrote his famous Long Telegram that set the tone for the Cold War, his predecessor was exploring Russia’s Far East on a quest to investigate the then-Russian Empire’s practice of exiling political prisoners to Siberia.

On an August night in 1933 Harbin in then-Japanese controlled Manchuria, Semyon Kaspe, French citizen, famed concert musician, and Russian Jew, is abducted after a night out. Suspicion falls on the city’s fervently anti-semitic Russian fascists. Yet despite pressure from the French consulate, the Japanese police slow-walk the investigation—and three months later, Semyon is found dead.

Genghis Khan established the greatest land empire ever known. His heirs saw to it that his accomplishments be remembered in a number of now classic works, like the Secret Histories of the Mongols, the Compendium of Histories by Rashiduddin, and Juvayni’s History of the World Conqueror. But souvenirs of Genghis Khan also survived in folk tales of the Tatar peoples, where they were transformed for cultural and political purposes, as shown in Mária Ivanics’s masterful editing of The Činggis Legend. 

It can be hard to imagine now, but there was a time, about 150 years ago, when Americans had a favorable and amicable view of Russia, “a ‘distant friend’” of the United States, a colorful but mysterious land filled with tragically romantic characters,” as Gregory Wallance writes in Into Siberia, his engrossing account of, as the subtitle has it, “George Kennan’s Epic Journey Through the Brutal, Frozen Heart of Russia”.

Harbin was a new city around the end of both the Qing dynasty and the Russian Empire. It was built to support the Chinese Eastern Railway and also became home to a sizable Jewish community numbering around twenty thousand. That community has long vanished and all that remains are the old synagogues and other buildings constructed by Jewish merchants and entrepreneurs. Why the Jews left Harbin is the most lasting consequence of the events recounted in Scott Seligman’s new book, Murder in Manchuria, a true crime narrative along the lines of Paul French’s Midnight in Peking and James M Zimmerman’s The Peking Express