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Early signs of genius

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Teenage Writings by Jane Austen

Well, 2017 really *is* turning out to be the year of anniversaries, isn’t it? As well as it being 100 years since the Russian Revolution, I’ve also been covering the work of the artist and writer Leonora Carrington, who was born in the same year as that Revolution. But I was reminded of the fact that it’s also 200 years since the death of Jane Austen by the arrival of a lovely review copy from Oxford World Classics – a beautiful book collecting together her teenage writings.

It’s been some years since I read anything by Austen – decades, in fact – and I can’t be sure now what I’ve actually read and what I haven’t, although I’m pretty sure on “Northanger Abbey” and “Persuasion”. So I wondered how I would find these juvenile works by an author who is arguably one of the most famous in the English language and who probably needs no introduction from me!

As always for OWC, the books is put together in a most exemplary fashion. There is an erudite and knowledgeable introduction from Kathryn Sutherland and Freya Johnston, both from St. Anne’s College, Oxford; a chronology of Austen and her works; detailed notes to support the contents of the text, and also notes that deal in detail with textual variations; maps, family continuations of the works, and three volumes of the actual stories (about which more below)! The scholarship which has gone into this book is impressive, making it a very special volume which is ideal for the reader who doesn’t necessarily have much background knowledge of Austen’s history, the era and the context (me!).

One of the hand-made books

Jane Austen was an inveterate reader of novels herself, and absorbed whatever books she could get hold of, high- or low-brow. Her early writings were done not ‘for the drawer’ but to be circulated amongst family and friends, and she collected them together into three mock books, the source of the works here. The earliest date from when she was 11 or 12, and the final pieces from her later teens when she was around 17. The early pieces are understandably shorter but Volume 3 has two substantial pieces, “Evelyn” and “Kitty, or the Bower”, the latter of which is the first opportunity to read the story as she actually wrote it, as it was apparently subject to alteration by family members later on.

If you think of Austen as a purveyor of gentle prose, you might be quite surprised when you read these stories! They take a variety of forms, from short pieces a page or so long, through little playlets to the longer, more dramatic stories in volume 3. The book includes her most famous piece of juvenilia, “Love and Freindship”, and it’s fascinating to see what a sophisticated wit she displays for one so young – this from one of the early pieces, for example:

… I daily became more amiable, & might perhaps by this time have nearly attained perfection, had not my worthy Preceptoress been torn from my arms, e’re I had attained my seventeenth year. I shall never forget her last words. “My dear Kitty, she said, Good night t’ye.” I never saw her afterwards, continued Lady Williams wiping her eyes, she eloped with the Butler the same night.

There’s a surprising amount of boozing going on, with one particular lady in the very early stories regularly drunk and knocking back the alcohol! Love is dramatic and tragic, and there is even a little murder thrown in…

An entertaining diversion comes in the form of “The History of England”, which appears in Volume the Second. Here, Austen turns her talents to relating the stories of the various monarchs of the country. Some warrant only a line or two, but titans such as Henry VIII earn entries of a decent length. I was particularly pleased to note that Austen refuses to believe the propaganda about Richard III declaring that she supposes him “a very respectable Man”. The entries are illustrated by Austen’s elder sister, Cassandra, but unfortunately she’s not able to present an image of Edward V as Jane tells us that “This unfortunate Prince lived so little a while that no body had time to draw his picture. He was murdered by his Uncle’s Contrivance, whose name was Richard the 3rd.” (Hmm – so perhaps Austen was being a little sarcastic in her views on the latter….)

I’m not enough of an Austen reader or scholar to comment on how strongly these early pieces relate to her later works, but I’m told that many of the themes in the teenage writings appear more subtly in her adult work and certainly I picked up elements of parody. This is an entertaining and enjoyable collection providing a unique glimpse into the world of the young Jane Austen. Is it a work for the general reader? I think so, though it would make more sense to have read some of her adult works before you come to this one. But this is a beautifully presented volume which presents an essential collection of early works by one of our best-loved authors – and it couldn’t have been put together any better!

(Many thanks to Oxford World Classics for kindly providing a review copy)

“Art is the whisper of history, heard above the noise of time.”

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The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes

You might be sensing something of a theme here on the Ramblings….

… because I do seem to be reading rather a lot of books set in or about Soviet Russia! I guess that’s kind of inevitable in the anniversary year of the 1917 Revolution, and I’m not complaining as it’s fairly obvious to even the most casual reader that I do have an interest in that country and its literature. However, I’ve been circling “The Noise of Time” for a little while now, slightly apprehensive and unsure if I should read it, mostly because of my well-known discomfort with fictionalised real lives, and also because it’s about Shostakovich, whose work I absolutely love (despite knowing very little about music in a technical way).

Dmitri Shostakovich is probably one of the most well-known Russian composers of the 20th century and he does tend to attract a little controversy, being either regarded as a puppet of the regime or a man who survived by saying one thing and meaning another. Barnes obviously subscribes to the latter view, and his portrait of the composer is nuanced and compelling.

But one of life’s many disappointments was that it was never a novel, not by Maupassant or anyone else. Well, perhaps a short satirical tale by Gogol.

“Noise” focuses on three pivotal points in Shostakovich’s life where he reaches a critical point – times when survival could well be in doubt. Each of these years – 1936, 1948, 1960 – is twelve years apart and a leap year, and the superstitious composer is very aware of this. In the first section of the book we find him waiting outside the lift in his building, a small suitcase in his hand; for Shostakovich is convinced he is about to be arrested, taken in the night as so many of his friends and colleagues have been, and he wishes to be prepared and orderly rather than grabbed in his pyjamas. As he waits, he reminiscences and ponders on his past; his relationship with his family, previous loves, and the fact that the failure of his opera, “Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk” has led to him being denounced and vilified.

He did not want to make himself into a dramatic character. But sometimes, as his mind skittered in the small hours, he thought: so this is what history has come to. All that striving and idealism and hope and progress and science and art and conscience, and it all ends like this, with a man standing by a lift, at his feet a small case containing cigarettes, underwear and tooth powder; standing there and waiting to be taken away.

Through a quirk of fate Shostakovich survives 1936 and when we next encounter him he’s returning from a politically motivated propaganda visit to America. This has been stressful, as he’s been made to spout speeches and soundbites written for him by the authorities, as well as encountering hostile émigré Russians. By now, the composer knows that to speak out would mean trouble for both him and his family, and instead irony is the best defence against tyranny – particularly useful when dealing with a functionary sent to give him a little political education.

The final section focuses on an older Shostakovich, dealing with declining health and a final indignity. Living through the thaw that followed Stalin’s death, everyday life has become slightly easier; however, this brings its own problems and the composer is faced with having to make a choice which will completely compromise him morally and is one of the hardest things he ever has to do.

The Composer

Barnes draws on two major works for his portrait of the composer: “Shostakovich: A Life Remembered” by Elizabeth Wilson, and “Testimony”, Shostakovich’s memoirs as related to Solomon Volkov. Both of these books are on Mount TBR and I’m well aware that the latter has also been controversial, with differing claims about its authenticity. Nevertheless, the voice that Barnes gives to Shostakovich here is one I found entirely convincing and the book is a compelling, fascinating and very moving read. Barnes captures brilliantly in his narrative the effects of living a life in constant fear; the daily horrors, the wish to escape and just be left alone to create your work. Despite his dismissal of himself as a “worm”, Shostakovich’s narrative is wryly witty in places, a dark humour that was probably a necessary response to years of living under the iron heel of tyranny.

In the old days, a child might pay for the sins of its father, or indeed mother. Nowadays, in the most advanced society on earth, the parents might pay for the sins of the child, along with uncles, aunts, cousins, in-laws, colleagues, friends, and even the man who unthinkingly smiled at you as he came out of the lift at three in the morning. The system of retribution had been greatly improved, and was so much more inclusive than it used to be.

The title of this book is also that of a collection of memoirs by the Russian poet Osip Mandelstam, and it’s also a thread that runs through the narrative. On the surface you couldn’t find two more different Soviet artists than the poet and the composer. Mandelstam spoke his mind about Stalin during the height of the purges, was betrayed and paid the ultimate price of madness and death; Shostakovich, by contrast, considered himself a coward and often failed to speak out, instead trying to negotiate a path through the stormy waters of the Soviet regime. It was a life endured with constant ups and downs, one day in favour, the next day out, and I would argue it took a certain moral resilience to live that way. How he actually managed to cope with constant fear and uncertainty while producing stunning works is a bit of a miracle; and actually living with the daily stress of not knowing if you’ll be denounced or arrested or tortured or killed takes its own kind of courage. And despite the portrait given here, Shostakovich *did* speak out in support of other artists and also produced work attacking anti-Semitism; so he was not without courage.

What could be put up against the noise of time? Only that music which is inside ourselves – the music of our being – which is transformed by some into real music. Which, over the decades, if it is strong and true and pure enough to drown out the noise of time, is transformed into the whisper of history. This was what he held to.

Four Russian Geniuses

There’s a wonderful photograph, which I’m reproducing here, which basically shows four Russian geniuses in 1929. Clockwise from the top left you have Mayakovsky, Rodchenko, Meyerhold, and Shostakovich. Mayakovsky would commit suicide a year later; artist Rodchenko managed to survive until 1956; the great man of the theatre Meyerhold was tortured and executed in 1940; but somehow Shostakovich made it through until my lifetime, dying in 1975 – a link to that Soviet past that lasted into the modern world.

A Very Brilliant Author

So “The Noise of Time” turned out to be one of the best reads of the year so far, and a book that I’m so glad I picked up. It deserves all the plaudits it received: not only does Julian Barnes paint a sympathetic and suggestive portrait of a great composer who survived a terrible regime against all the odds, he also provides a frighteningly vivid depiction of what happens to art under totalitarian rule. That’s becoming a running theme on the Ramblings, one which is particularly relevant to our world today; and I can’t recommend this book highly enough, especially if you need to be reminded of what we have to avoid.

A descent into Hell

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Down Below by Leonora Carrington

2017 is shaping up to be quite a year of anniversaries so far. The obvious one, and the one which has been gaining quite a bit of attention from my neck of the woods, is the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution. However, 2017 is also the centenary of the birth of the artist and writer Leonora Carrington and there have been a number of significant releases to mark the event. I’ve recently read and reviewed for Shiny New Books a biography of Carrington by her cousin, Joanna Moorhead, and you can read about that here. However, NYRB are leading the field with a reissue of her seminal work “Down Below”, an autobiographical piece which explores a nervous breakdown she had in the 1940s, and it’s a stunning piece of work.

Carrington is usually labelled as a surrealist and bracketed with that group of artists, owing to her association with them and her affair with Max Ernst, one of the movement’s leading practitioners. But to restrict her by that label seems unfair; she wrote as well, and a number of her books have been published over the years by Virago, keeping her work in the public eye – and in fact they are the publishers of the Moorhead book.

Carrington and Ernst

Carrington was born into a privileged background; her father was a successful, self-made businessman, and Carrington herself was presented at the court of King George V as a debutante in the season of 1935, along with her mother. However, she railed against conventionality and after several failed educational attempts, she was allowed to study art in London. It was here that she met Ernst, and despite the 23 year gap in their ages there was an instant attraction and the pair ran off together, initially to Cornwall. The partnership was a fruitful one and the couple ended up in France at the start of WW2. It was here that things began to go wrong: Max, as a German national was sent to a concentration camp, leaving the young Leonora on her own. Unable to cope, she had a nervous breakdown which led to her incarceration in a most nightmarish asylum, and this experience forms the basis of the book “Down Below”. It’s a slim volume with a chequered publication history, and it’s perhaps a little surprising initially that a work of this length (63 pages) has been published separately, as it could well have been slotted into a collection of her works. But I can understand the logic of wanting the piece to stand on its own, and its augmented by a wonderful and erudite introduction by Marina Warner, who draws heavily on her own meetings with Carrington in the 1970s – which makes it even more interesting.

In some ways, I find “Down Below” a hard book to review – what can you say a book that is nakedly honest about someone’s disturbed mental state without risking sounding trite? Carrington relates her story in an almost detached tone, telling of her inability to cope with Max’s imprisonment, her long periods of not eating and the attempts of friends to help her. She sees symbols everywhere, and as the War situation deteriorates, she is driven off to Spain by two friends. The car freezes up and will go no further; Carrington identifies herself with the car and considers herself frozen too. Her family become involved and she is institutionalised, where she slips between fantasy and lucidity and receives some truly horrific treatment. The drugs used on her induce fits and her dream is to reach the habitation ‘down below’ where all is calm and well. Eventually, she escapes the doctors and her family by making a marriage of convenience and fleeing to America, but the treatment she has endured is simply brutal.

Carrington’s map of ‘down below’, featured in the book

“Down Below” is a disconcerting book; the detached tone makes what’s happening even more shocking, and the lines between what’s real and what’s imagined are hard to find. Carrington relates shortly and in a calm tone that she was gang raped by soldiers; allowed to lie in her own filth for ages; stripped naked and tied down. It’s stark stuff, lifted by passages of beauty, and Carrington’s identification of her body in relation to the world is fascinating. Some of the passages are dizzying and dazzling, and the book is laced with symbolism – a kind of written equivalent to her visual art.

In the end, Carrington fought her way through the madness, made her escape, and eventually based herself in Mexico where she continued to paint and write, made a happy marriage and had two children. She produced an impressive body of work, and her books seem to reflect her art with their surreal stories and strange happenings. Certainly I can see the connections between her worldview in “Down Below” and the surreal landscapes and powerful women in “The Hearing Trumpet”. As a document of what it can feel like to go through a period of madness, this book is peerless; and as an account of a surreal view of life it’s unmatched. The excellent introduction puts all in context, and if you want to explore Leonora Carrington’s life and work, this book gives some valuable insights into the unique artist that she was.

Sassy, foul-mouthed and very entertaining!

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Zazie in the Metro by Raymond Queneau
Translated by Barbara Wright

When I read Raymond Queneau’s “The Sunday of Life” for the 1951 Club, I had several commenters tell me how good his book “Zazie in the Metro” was; and as I already had a copy on my shelves, I determined that I should read it soon – and look! I have! 🙂

Published in 1959, “Zazie” is the book Queneau is best known for; this may be because it was made into a very successful film, or perhaps it was just published at the right time to hit the zeitgeist. Whatever it was, it’s certainly an entertaining and enjoyable read and definitely deserves its status.

The titular Zazie is a young girl who’s farmed out to her uncle Gabriel in Paris for a couple of days while her mother goes off in pursuit of a lover. Zazie’s age is never specified and we never really get a full description; however, as she’s constantly perceived as a potential target for sex maniacs, I did wonder if perhaps she was meant to be slightly older than the actress who portrayed her in the film, Catherine Demongeot.

Zazie has one great desire in Paris, which is to ride on the Metro. Alas, this is closed as the staff are on strike, so instead Zazie takes off on a series of madcap chases round the city, hotly pursued by her rather odd uncle (who has a job as a cross-dressing performer in a gay nightclub), a series of women who seem to be interested in her uncle, a tour guide, a parrot with a fairly limited range of words and a ‘chap’ who may be a policeman, pervert, a detective or something more sinister indeed…

The ending is riotously surreal with mayhem and murder breaking out all over the place, but things return to a status quo of sorts, and the slightly dream-like feeling that comes over at the end did make me wonder if everything which took place was not meant to be as real as it first appeared.

The whole manic story is told in a wonderful kind of vernacular, with phonetics and puns abounding. It’s wildly funny, kind of like an old-style screwball comedy but set in a more modern Paris and with plenty of bad language and innuendo. Zazie is a lovable, if foul-mouthed youngster, and we learn more about her from her reactions and interactions with other characters than we do from any kind of character building by the author. In fact, looking back on the book, that’s one of the cleverest things about it. Queneau doesn’t go in for big descriptions of the various protagonists; instead, he builds them up from their actions and what the other characters say about them. Simple things, like the fact that Zazie’s enigmatic aunt Marceline always says things ‘gently’, tell you all you need to know about them.

As with “Sunday” however I think there’s definitely more to the book than meets the eye. Gabriel is prone to deeper thought, and at one point muses (with a no doubt deliberate little nod to Sartre):

Being or nothingness, that is the question. Ascending, descending, coming, going, a man does so much that in the end he disappears. A taxi bears him off, a metro carries him away, the Tower doesn’t care, nor the Pantheon. Paris is but a dream, Gabriel is but a reverie (a charming one), Zazie the dream of a reverie (or of a nightmare) and all this story the dream of a dream, the reverie of a reverie, scarcely more than the typewritten delirium of an idiotic novelist (oh! sorry).

I suspect there are many, many linguistic tricks and in-jokes that I’m missing, and I ended the book thinking that I really want to read it again but with a mindset of appreciating the language more instead of relishing the fantastic and entertaining action. Regardless of that, Zazie is a wonderful romp, a joy to read and a certain indication that I should definitely read more of Raymond Queneau’s work!

(Kudos have to go to translator Barbara Wright again for rendering such sparkling and clever wordplay – what a wonderfully talented woman!)

A sentimental purchase

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I’ve written before about the pivotal effect on me of visiting the local library at a young age; it was a place that opened the door to books we could never afford at home, and I still have memories of my father taking me there to borrow another treasure. One early book that became a favourite was Dr. Seuss’s “I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew”, and that came from the library when it was in its old location in our town – down near the river in an old, dark building.

When I started earning I bought my own copy….

The library later moved to a new shiny building in the 1960s style modern precinct built in the middle of town. Inside was all bright and new, and I still made use of it all the time (and kept doing so until I finally moved away from home for good). And it was with books borrowed from this library that I was able to really expand the breadth of my reading and move onto more adult titles in my early teens.

The original Hobbit from 1971 – battered and bruised and just about holding together!

One set of books I read and loved was Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Some friends of the family had seen me reading the Narnia books and suggested I would like “The Hobbit”. They then sent us a copy and both my dad and I devoured it (he was quite a reader and a fan of sci-fi and fantasy). The natural progression was to “The Lord of the Rings” and so we borrowed this from the library – lovely hardback editions in blue-grey (laminated on) dust jackets with gorgeous big fold out maps in the back. We were both transfixed by the books, and I’ve returned to them many, many times over the years, owning my own paperback copies.

However, it’s a while since I read the trilogy, and I developed a hankering recently to revisit it. And I decided I’d like to re-read the books in the format I originally did – hardbacks with a fold out map. A little research online revealed that these were the second edition books from the 1960s and getting hold of a set in decent condition would be very, very pricey, so I put the idea on the back burner – until I recently stumbled upon these…

Yes, they’re very, very battered, and yes there are bits of the dust jackets missing – but this is a sound enough set of the second edition books in readable condition and so I’ll be able to read the books again as I did first time with my dad. And joy of joys, there are lovely intact maps in the back in super condition!

The set was ridiculously cheap and despite the rather bedraggled state of them, I’m happy to have them in the house ready for a summer revisit. OH has kindly covered the books with a mylar-type plastic to keep what’s left of the jackets together and make it easier for me to read. So summer will see a sentimental trip into my past – I’m looking forward to it! 🙂

Surrealism on Shiny

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Today I have another review live on Shiny New Books, and this time it’s non-fiction for a change. The book in question is a fascinating one about a fascinating artist; entitled “The Surreal Life of Leonora Carrington”, it’s authored by a relative of the artist, Joanna Moorhead, and she offers an intriguing perspective on her cousin.

I’ve written about Carrington’s work before, when I reviewed “The Hearing Trumpet“; and I’ll be covering the new NYRB edition of “Down Below” soon. Meanwhile, you can read my review of “The Surreal Life of Leonora Carrington” here – it’s an excellent book!

 

Caught between two worlds

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The Patriots by Sana Krasikov

Unusually, 2017 has seen a number of new works come out that I’ve been interested in reading; although, somewhat predictably, they’ve had a common theme that could have something to do with the fact that this is the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution…

I’ve already spent happy hours with Amor Towles’ “A Gentleman in Moscow” and Julie Lekstrom Himes’ “Mikhail and Margarita”; however, when I read Elle’s interesting and perceptive review of “The Patriots” I knew that it was another new novel I wanted to track down. The publishers, Granta, kindly provided a review copy, and I’ve spent several days completely immersed in the book – which is testament to how good it is. Author Sana Krasikov is a new name to me, and this is her first novel, with a previous short story collection “One More Year” having won awards and plaudits. Born in the Ukraine but now living in New York, she obviously has the background knowledge which informs the story…

“The Patriots” tells the story of Florence Fein, a young Jewish woman living in New York in the 1930s. Florence is a naive idealist; from a Slavic background, she is drawn to Russia and the Soviet dream which is being portrayed to her, and against a background of the American depression and daily anti-Semitism it certainly looks appealing. As a Russian speaker she is able to work for Amtorg, the Soviet Trade Mission, which brings her into contact with Russians who are in America to bring about trade deals; and one of these encounters, with the enigmatic Sergey, will be pivotal.

When he returns to Russia, Florence sets out to follow him, convinced that America has nothing to offer her. However, the reality she meets when she arrives in Moscow, then Magnitogorsk, is shocking, with people existing in poverty (except for the higher ranks in the party) and it is surprising that Florence wants to stay. However, she does, and eventually an encounter with an old acquaintance sends her back to Moscow. Florence is savvy enough to find a job and manages to make her way in a city which is in the process of regenerating; and she still harbours a longing to track down Sergey. However, her life will not go as she planned; she will end up with a very different partner to the one she intended, she will find herself embroiled in politics and betrayal, and she will find that her judgement of the best way to behave is not as sound as she thought. Redemption of sorts will come eventually, but not until a much later date.

Set alongside Florence’s story is that of her son Julian, and her grandson Lenny. In these post-Soviet days, Julian is able to shuttle between America and Russia doing business, and his son has in fact settled in Moscow. Julian remembers what it was like to live under Soviet rule, and how his father disappeared and his mother was sent to a camp. At some point the family escaped back to America, but the ties with Russia are strong; and there are many unanswered questions that Julian has about his mother’s past which come to a head when a friend implies that she was an informer. A business trip to Moscow gives him the chance to investigate the archives, assembling the jigsaw of his past, as well as to try to extricate his son from a difficult situation…

Neither Soviet nor post-Soviet Russia, with all their bureaucracy, are easy places to be. Although Julian’s setting is less obviously bleak, his meetings with various businessmen are as troubling as the chilling scenes of manipulation from the NKVD interrogator endured by Florence. Torture exists and deprivation, although this was never too graphic, and the book is very audacious in its scope, exploring in depth the extremes to which a person will go, not only to survive but also to save a family member.

“The Patriots” is a complex, well structured tale which weaves the various plotlines together brilliantly. As Florence’s story unravels, and we learn more of what happened to her and also to Julian and his father, we watch alongside as Julian starts to piece together more of his history. Both mother and son have to deal with those who are in power in Russia of their time, whether Soviet authorities or Russian oligarchs, and the naivety of both of them is clear. They will find a way out of their situation, but for neither is the process pleasant. The portrayal of Julian is as nuanced as that of his mother, and we see him at various stages of his life; from the little boy adored by his parents, through the confusing and brutal years of loss and orphanages, to rediscovering his missing parent and attempting to remake his life. In many ways he is as out of his depth with the subtleties of modern Russian business as his mother was the complexities of life amongst the Soviets.

I found myself completely engrossed in the story of Florence and her family, so absorbed that I was reluctant to put it down. The characters are strong and well drawn; the background and setting completely convincing; and the sense of helplessness Florence feels living in a totalitarian regime is frightening. The culture of suspicion and betrayal is insidious, leading the naive woman to make foolish decisions which leave her stranded in a hostile foreign country with no way of escape. The ideas and beliefs of the time are never glossed over, but discussion of them is an essential part of the narrative. Running through the story is the thread of the family’s Jewish heritage; something that is always with them, informing every action taken by and against them, and most often used as a stick to beat them with – either literally or metaphorically. The family belongs nowhere, neither in America or Russia, and I wondered if Krasikov was using this lack of a home as a metaphor for the situation of Jewish people and the shocking anti-Semitism they still face nowadays.

Author Sana Krasikov

“The Patriots” was a wonderful, epic read which deserves all the plaudits its received. Florence is a flawed and misguided heroine, but one who you can understand; and the wide range of the book, taking in eight decades, gives it a scope perhaps missing from “Mikhail and Margarita” (which also suffered a little, in my view, from using real figures as major characters). And in many ways it’s an excellent counterpart to the Towles’ book which took a look at Soviet life from a different angle; although there was off-camera evidence of what was happening to Russians at the time in that book, here there is no doubt at all. The hardships and the brutality and the sheer grinding hell of everyday life is laid bare in Krasikov’s narrative, and it’s a chilling scenario which I never want to see returning to the world.

The books I’ve read this year so far about Soviet Russia have all acted as timely reminders of what life can be like under totalitarian rule; and as I’ve said before, with the current state of the world, this is not something we should allow to return. Intolerance and hatred are the worst strands in human behaviour and this excellent book, as well as telling a wonderfully gripping story, brings home how harsh humanity can be. Highly recommended!

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