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Devil's Acre: A Russian Novel [Kindle Edition]

Jonathan Bastable
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)

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  • Length: 285 pages (estimated)
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Book Description

'…Intelligent and enjoyable…this is a novel about big issues – Russia, architecture, poetry, language, history and politics…It avoids the usual Cold War cliches… Bastable displays a genuine affection for, and understanding of, Russia.'
- Society for Co-operation in Russian and Soviet Studies Digest

Moscow, 1982. The oppressive Soviet regime is solidly in place; Leonid Brezhnev is praised to the skies for the brilliance of his unreadable memoirs; and the KGB is keeping a watchful eye on the weary and demoralised masses. Vadim, a young Leningrader, is headed to the capital to begin his journalism studies at MGU, Moscow State University. But he has a research project of his own in mind. He wants to find out about the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour – built close to the Kremlin as a memorial to Russia’s victory over Napoleon, but demolished in 1931 to make way for an immense Palace of Soviets. The Palace was intended to be the largest building in the world, a beacon of communism. But like communism, it never materialised. As for the lost church, it became a taboo subject, and the mere mention of the Cathedral of Christ was an act of anti-Soviet propaganda.
Vadim knows this, but proceeds with his quest anyway. And when he enlists the help of Rachel, an American exchange student, his passion draws them both into a sinister and dangerous vortex…

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Product Description

About the Author

Jonathan Bastable is an author, historian and travel journalist. He spent many years living in Russia, first as a student, then as a correspondent for The Sunday Times of London and other newspapers. He covered the turbulent Yeltsin years, and was present at the battle for control on the Russian parliament building in 1993. He is the author of many non-fiction books, and he writes regularly on foreign destinations for Conde Nast Traveller and other magazines. He is a fluent Russian speaker, and he now lives in Brighton, England.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 511 KB
  • Print Length: 285 pages
  • Publisher: Therefore Publishing Limited (5 Aug. 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00ED14F94
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #143,331 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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More About the Author

In 1982, just after I turned 20, I went to live in Leningrad for a year. I was cold and hungry most of the time, and most of my Russian friends were miserable or scared or both. The winter was dark and long, and the regime was oppressive. It was by far the happiest year of my life.

That year, and subsequent years spent at Moscow University as a postgrad, provided much of the core material for Devil's Acre. But I wasn' t then a writer, not yet. After returning to Britain I got a job as a feature writer on The Sunday Times Magazine, and in 1991 I was sent back to Moscow as the newspaper's Russian Affairs correspondent. I covered the slapstick Yeltsin years, and was present at the shelling of the Russian parliament building in 1993 - the moment when Russia's last best hope of a democratic future went up in smoke.

I have written many works of non-fiction, including a history of the Battle of Stalingrad based on eyewitness accounts. I am now, among other things, a travel writer, and I often go back to Russia on assignment for Conde Nast Traveller and other magazines. Devil's Acre is my first novel, and my proudest achievement.

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Customer Reviews

3 star
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4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Memorable and compelling 30 Jan. 2014
This is possibly the best novel about life in 1980s Soviet Union since Olga Grushin’s Dream Life of Sukhanov. In Vadim, the overly inquisitive architecture student, Bastable has created a sympathetic hero whose low level challenging of the Soviet regime has serious consequences for his girlfriend, family and friends as well as himself.
Vadim’s ill-advised quest to discover the truth about the destruction of Moscow’s first Cathedral of Christ the Saviour (now rebuilt in the post-Soviet era) runs parallel to the historic story of its conception and creation. With this twin-track tale of architecture and morality, Bastable subtly draws together the common threads uniting the Tsars, the Orthodox Church and the Communist Party – all seeking to dominate the very soul of the Russian people
But it is the story of Vadim and his extended circle of family, friends and acquaintances that really fascinates. Bastable explores their dreams, loyalties, feuds and insecurities with an assurance and crisp prose that matches that of Vasily Grossman in Life and Fate, the great novel of the Patriotic War.
Whereas Grossman’s work was on the epic scale, Bastable deals with everyday life. In doing so he brings alive a very specific time and place, Moscow on the eve of Glasnost, in a way that is memorable and compelling. Some readers may be perplexed by the ending but it is arguably a dose of Soviet realism rather than glib romantic escapism. An idiosyncratic work but a very rewarding one.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A growing sense of paranoia... 28 Aug. 2013
By Ali
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This is a powerful story detailing a young man's obsession in Soviet Russia. I felt myself being drawn into the real-life history of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, as the story shifts in time and perspective. But Vadim's passion is not only putting himself in danger - his actions have repercussions for his family, his friends and his American lover. I found this a gripping tale, giving a true insight into the paranoia that must have been a fact of daily life for many ordinary Soviet citizens - and the resilience that got them through it. It had me looking over my shoulder...
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
It is the early 1980s. Vadim is a young and talented student embarking on a journalism course at the Soviet Union's most prestigious seat of learning, Moscow University. A future as a member of the country's elite seems assured. Until he acquires two obsessions that threaten everything he and his family have planned. First, he starts to research a forbidden subject: the story of the construction and destruction of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour -- built after the Napoleonic wars as a symbol of the nation's salvation and razed by Stalin in the 1930s to celebrate communism's (apparent) victory over religion. Second, Vadim meets Rachel, an attractive American exchange student. The fitful thaw in East-West relations finds itself tested by their, and especially his, dangerous set of passions ...

Bastable, a former Times correspondent during the final years of the USSR and accomplished writer of historical non-fiction, handles the historical flashbacks and the narrative ducking and weaving with all the skill to be expected from an accomplished newspaperman. But he can write people and feelings too, which is rare. I'd quibble a little bit with the ending, but maybe a little cynical realism is right, and I am a foolish romantic. The journey to get there is every bit worth it. I read it in a few days, looking forward to finding the time to immerse myself and sad when it all ended and these events and people left my life. Me, who doesn't read novels that often and finds it hard to stick with them. I'd dock maybe a quarter-point for the ending, but since Mr Amazon don't allow that, I'll stick with 5 stars. Excellent.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful sentences 26 Jan. 2014
By Jax
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Immediate and compelling, yet gently lyrical. That's how I feel about this book.
It was recommended by a friend and I had little prior knowledge of the subject matter of pre-perestroika Russia and the construction of a cathedral. (Strange juxtaposition? They work together, trust me.)
Anyway, it's beautifully written. Whilst being drawn into the two parallel stories, I found myself often reading back through sentences just to experience them one more time. I've never noticed this desire in myself before, so it must be the beautiful sentences.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A real page turner. 9 Feb. 2014
By zorro55
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
A friend recommended this book to me, and I'm so glad they did. I’ve just finished it, and I heartily recommend it.
I enjoy both non-fiction and really well-written literary fiction, and this was a perfect blend of the two.
I found the fictional plot gripping, and the author’s popping in and out in his own voice enhanced the story for me. What makes this book really great is the insight it gives into how life actually was in Russia in the 1980’s. The writer clearly has a deep affinity for Russia and an understanding of how it works, and that shows on every page. Along with a general sense of life there, there are fascinating vignettes: about the queuing system in Moscow university library; about vodka; about Brezhnev’s funeral. It never feels like a history lesson, and all flows very easily.
On top of the author’s knowledge of Russia, he’s a damn good writer. The book is a real page-turner.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Great effort and passion put into this book
Great effort and passion put into this book. Particularly strong as a little treatise on Russia, but some passages remarkably lyrical too
Published 1 month ago by JJ
5.0 out of 5 stars This beautifully written book gives a truly memorable insight into...
This beautifully written book gives a truly memorable insight into life as a student at Moscow State University in the Eighties, conjuring up all the bleakness and austerity of... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Sal P
4.0 out of 5 stars Jonathan's understanding of the Russian people and his love of the...
This is a fascinating book full of Russian history linked to more recent events. Jonathan's understanding of the Russian people and his love of the land and its poetry shine... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Helen L
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommended
I knew very little of Russia before reading this now I am fascinated, historical, intrigue a love story this book had it all cannot recommend it highly enough
Published 5 months ago by B A Graham-Jones
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Excellent novel which gives great history lesson at the same time
Published 13 months ago by Bud
4.0 out of 5 stars A timely reminder
This imaginative story, taking the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour– built under the Czars, destroyed by Stalin and rebuilt after Perestroika – as a way of telling the recent... Read more
Published 17 months ago by Anthony Williams
5.0 out of 5 stars Engrossing
This tale of a young Russian student whose obsession with the destroyed Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow brings unwanted attention from the political authorities is a... Read more
Published 18 months ago by Brenda Stewart
4.0 out of 5 stars A book which will leave you with a strong feeling of atmosphere
After a slightly slow start, this book caught and held my attention. The author obviously knows his recent Russian history, and this comes through in his narrative. Read more
Published 19 months ago by Harwell
4.0 out of 5 stars A compelling read
Devil's Acre is a vividly written, intriguing and compelling tale of obsession and love in Soviet Russia. Read more
Published 22 months ago by Octavia
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