on 14 July 2010
I'm writing a quick review because no-one else has and I feel, after just finishing the novel, that it deserves a positive comment. The book follows the life of an english man in Russia through the war and revolution. It centers around his relationship with an extended Russian family, all dependant upon the father Nikolai, and his hopes of one day making money from a gold mine he owns. The story revolves around a romance between our narrator and one of the daughters of the family. The backdrop is Russia, both its seasons, landscape and the futility of revolutionary bloodshed.
The book asks, do we live our lives, or do our lives live us? The protagonists of the story are swept along by events of which they have little control, but hoping that things will get better, some time in the future. This happens on the large scale to Russia itself, and on the smaller scale to our hero who cannot quite make the right effort at the right time, and whose hopes pass by.
It has the feel of a Russian novel but also reminded me (a bit)of T S Eliot.
It asks many existential questions without being dry or intellectual. It is well written and easy to approach. Most of all, though being set in an historical setting and being semi-autobiographical, the themes of the book are just as relevant now.
on 13 May 2015
I expected to enjoy this half-forgotten novel on Russian themes that has won many literary admirers, but I struggled. At first I was won over by the detached humour but I became less interested as the work progressed. The characters, including the narrator, are little more than cartoons and it seems odd to have a novel where nothing happens set in the Russian revolution. While the characters' lack of engagement in the period of history through which they are living could be revealing, in the end it seemed to me no more than another aspect of the dismissive ennui that suffuses the novel, including the futile love affair. Add the that the anti-Semitic insults against one of the characters... I found it hard to keep picking the book up to make myself finish it.