Wednesday, March 14, 2018
Published November 2017 by Little, Brown and Company
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review
St. Petersburg, New Year's Eve, 1916. Marina Makarova is a young woman of privilege who aches to break free of the constraints of her genteel life, a life about to be violently upended by the vast forces of history. Swept up on these tides, Marina will join the marches for workers' rights, fall in love with a radical young poet, and betray everything she holds dear, before being betrayed in turn.
As her country goes through almost unimaginable upheaval, Marina's own coming-of-age unfolds, marked by deep passion and devastating loss, and the private heroism of an ordinary woman living through extraordinary times.
I just finished this book this morning, finally, and I'm not sure quite what to say about it. On the other hand, I feel that if I wait to review it, only the things that annoyed me about it will be left in my memory. Which is sort of what's already happening.
Before I put my thoughts into words, I went to see what others had to say about this book. Maybe someone could make me rethink what I've just read so that I might appreciate it more. Two authors I admire very much, Cynthia Bond and David Ebershoff (more on him later this week), had high praise. Huh. C'mon guys, tell me what I missed!
Let's go at this another way.
What I Didn't Like:
It's the Russian revolution, I get it. Lots to talk about. But this book did not need to be anywhere near 685 pages long. It wasn't all that far into the book before I started skimming liberally.
And when I got to the end? I couldn't believe that was how Fitch left it off; I was, to use a word my mother hates, pissed. I had expected the book to circle back around the opening few pages which were set in 1932. But it just sort of...ended.
One reviewer said Fitch "infuses her protagonists with transgressive sexual energy á la E.L. James's Fifty Shades of Grey." Which is, actually, true, but not something I was looking for in a book about the Russian Revolution. There is part of the book that was very disturbing, related to sexual enslavement, which I felt went on too long. Also, I'll give Fitch that Marina is a teenager, and teenagers don't always have the best judgment; but this girl seemed to be sexually aroused by almost every man who played any kind of significant role in the book. So, yeah, a lot of sex.
Those weren't the only scenes that played out much too long. The whole book could have used quite a lot of trimming up. It sometimes felt like the characters were just running back and forth. It was a time and place with a lot of tension but when things dragged out so much or seemed to become repetitive, I lost interest.
What I Liked:
I'll bet you were starting to think I might not get to this part, weren't you? Despite all of the above, there was a lot I did like about this book.
Fitch is able to make readers see the plight of all of the character - the good and bad of both those who were once the ruling class and those who did the work. There are certainly some very interesting characters in the book and I did find myself caught up in their tragedies and love.
Fitch studied Russian history when she was in school and her passion for the subject and knowledge of the revolution are clear. The extreme poverty, the desperation for food and eating materials, the fear are all vivid. I wasn't aware previously of just how confusing and uncertain the politics of Russia were following the revolution, how it tore apart the country and made everything so dangerous. I wish the publisher would have included a map of Petrograd and the surrounding areas as well as a listing of the historical characters and the various parties.
In many ways, this book is very timely - students rising up against their leaders, workers insisting on change, rural versus urban. One can only hope our own country doesn't end up with the same fate as Russia at the turn of the last century.