22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on 11 April 2008
This is a fascinating and immensely readable memoir. Eugenie Fraser - born Evgeniya Scholts in Archangel Russia in 1906 the eldest child of Russian father and Scottish mother reveals a world now consigned to history books. Samovars, wolves, sledges piled high with furs and packages rushing through the artic winter, women bathing naked in the river unobserved and unmolested, are just a few of the images that this book leaves the reader with. The realities of war and revolution are described with a sort of childlike matter of factness that is horribly poignant. The House by the Dvina is beautifully recounted story of an unusual family.
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 21 March 2008
I have read and reread this delightful book and it is one of my favourites. It's the kind of book that weaves a spell around you and somehow touches a deeply nostalgic chord within--the sort of book that makes you feel somewhat bereft when it ends! I have recommended it to so many others who have also loved it and passed it on in their turn--my mother, my sister, and many friends and acquaintances. It seems to appeal to such a diversity of people of all ages. (Another enchanting book that has this quality is Seal Morning) One friend reads it every winter, relishing every detail of the epic sledge journey to St Peterburg to petition the Tsar, the safe homecoming and the blissful restorative powers of the banya, the traditional Russian bath. (This is one of my favourite episodes too). The book is not particularly well written (the author is obviously not a professional writer), but because she has an endlessly fascinating story to tell and conveys such a genuine, deep love of her childhood, any shortcomings in her writing style are more than compensated for. This wonderful book provides an extraordinary window into the life of a Russian family whose world was abruptly swept away by the Revolution. One feels the tension of the gathering storm of unrest, brutality and destruction, and longs for the spell not to be broken-- one would like to sit for a moment longer in the circle of warm light around the samovar, in the cosy, peaceful room with the little lamp flickering before the icon, and take refuge from the darkness and the inhospitable cold and ice of the Arctic winter. Highly recommended!
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 3 May 2009
'The House by the Dvina' tells of the childhood of Evgeniya Sholts (as Eugenie Fraser was then) and the experiences of her extended family in Archangel, Russia, before, during and immediately after the Bolshevik revolution.
While the basic history of the Russian revolution is familiar, what makes this account so compelling is that it is so very personal, focusing on one family's experience. Fascinating too is that this is set in Archangel - a remote far northern town about which less is written.
Fraser writes with immense warmth and detail, recalling the traditional foods and ceremonies of a bygone age. Off the page leaps a world filled with troikas, wolves, frozen rivers, ice breakers, Orthodox iconography, mushroom pickers, wet nurses, balalaikas and long, arduous journeys. Fraser writes with a childlike acceptance of all that happened around her, but some of the tales she has to tell are truly amazing, including her Grandmother's epic journey to plead with the Tsar for her husband; her Scottish mother's relatively simple decision to marry a Russian man and move to a country completely alien to her; and the fates of her various relatives once the 1920s begin.
This is a compelling read and as non-fiction is not racy or over-dramatised. Fraser brings to life a world gone forever and does so with genuine love for her native land. Hers was an extraordinary childhood and hers a valuable record of an astonishing era in history. I really recommend this book and not just to all those with an interest in history: this holds its own as a really poignant family saga.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 12 May 2008
This memoir of the author's childhood in faraway Archangel is entertaining, funny, tragic and uplifing. It really transports you to a whole new world and brings pre-revolutionary Russia to life. I was amazed at how cosmopolitan the city of Archangel was in those times, and inspired at how the trade links criss-crossing the North and White Seas blossomed into a Scottish-Russian union that united families on opposite ends of Europe. The author was lucky to have had such a wonderful childhood and I am glad she decided to write this book to share her story with us.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 19 May 2003
I was recommended to read this book, firstly because it involves Dundee and secondly because it is an amazing story, made more so by the fact that it is non-fiction.
Eugenie Fraser takes us through the years leading up to the revolution in Russia and beyond. She details the family and Russain traditions that were so important in the 19th century and early 20th century. She weaves a picture of her family both Russian and Scottish and how they interact.
You read of acts of bravery that should only be in a work of fiction such as her pregnant grandmother being taken by sledge to plead for the life of her husband.
It is very difficult to put into words a discription of this book, all I would say is read it - I guarentee that you will love it.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Her memories of distant childhood perhaps sharpened with age, Eugenie Fraser became an admired author at the age of 80 with a fascinating account of early life as the daughter of a Russian father and Scottish mother, living mainly in Archangel near the Arctic Circle and "midnight sun", in the final years of the Tsar's Empire and the chaos of the Russian Revolution.
Some of her best anecdotes were related to her by relatives, such as her grandmother's courageous journey across frozen wastes, braving frostbite and wolves, despite being eight months' pregnant to beg for clemency from the Tsar to release her husband from prison. At first, it irked me that the author never seemed to question the Tsar's right to exert such power, nor the comfort and luxury in which her family lived. However, having built up strong images of an idyllic childhood, her descriptions of the stupid bureaucracy, incompetence, and gross injustice perpetrated after the Revolution greatly increased my sympathy for her viewpoint. I was impressed by her bitter analysis of the Allied Intervention during World War 1, which only supported the White Army temporarily because it was anti-German, since "in reality the Allies did not care what government took over Russia". As her step-uncle bitterly commented, "Why did they come at all? We shall pay a heavy price for this."
In the middle of the book, I began to find the introduction of an endless succession of Russian relatives too much to take. I grew bored by her preoccupation with trivial matters while "glossing over" important issues such as her parents' relationship. Yet I am glad that I persevered because of the poignant and thought-provoking, not to say exciting, final chapters. She shows not only the intensity of the will and ingenuity to survive, abut also how the strongest spirit may break under intense hardship.
I am sure that many readers will enjoy without criticism the evocation of a lost past, with the exhilaration of the sleigh ride across the frozen Dvina, the camaraderie of the communal baths where even the wealthy went to wash, the observance of rituals and the colourful characters in a large extended family.
Throughout the tale there are continual comparisons between northern Russia and Dundee in Scotland, where Eugenie was fortunate enough to be able to take refuge.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 8 October 2009
This is a true story told by a woman born in Russia at the turn of the last century. Her father was from a wealthy merchant family and her mother was Scottish. It is the account, mainly, of her Russian family and her parents' story. The traditional way of life is depicted in minute detail in a clear unfussy prose.Furnishings, clothes, food preparation, with the highlights of the Easter and Chrismas feasts, are clearly depicted. Her beloved family are beautifully rendered and as events unfold with the revolution tragedy descends. It was strongly recommended and lent to me and I in turn have ordered my own copy from Amazon and recommend it to others.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 3 November 2012
This is the true story of Eugenie Fraser, alias Evgeniya Sholts. It is simply told and well put together although some may find a number of descriptive passages a little too "chocolate-boxy" for their taste. The other irksome thing for Anglo-Saxons are the Russian patronyms - there seems to be an endless cast of friends and relations : Eugenie either kept a diary or else has a better head for names than most of us.
That said, the story is quite rivetting and relates in considerable detail the history of her mother's marriage with a Russian from a privileged background whose family made their money in the timber business centered around Archangel in the far North. Cleverly she includes some excellent stories about her Russian grand-parents but most of the tale is told through the eyes of a pre-teenage girl - and therefore those who wish to know more about, say, the Russian catastrophe of Tannenberg at the very beginning of hostilities in August 1914 would do well to turn to their history books or Wikipaedia ! There is much instead about the changing seasons, social custom, ceremonies at church or school, children's games, and food, including food preparation. It would not be too outlandish to say the book feeds one on a diet of nostalgia for the good old days prior to the 1917 revolution.
The last fifty pages certainly cover the horrors of a disintegrating society torn by civil war and how it effected life for her and her family. It becomes a harrowing tale of violence and lawlessness where by no means everyone escapes with their life. Nevertheless after sundry adventures, together with her mother and younger brother, she lives to tell the tale - sixty years later.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Subtitled, "A Russian Childhood", this is a wonderful memoir of a vanished world. Eugenie was born in Russia, the firstborn daughter of a Russian father and Scottish mother. Although she was brought up and educated in Russia, both her and her brother visited Scotland as often as possible. For this was the beginning of the century, when travel was a difficult and precarious business. Travel was by ship and train - all visits to Scotland had to be planned to avoid the time when the great river could be crossed. In summer, by boat, and in winter by sledge, as it froze solid. However, when it was freezing, it was a dangerous and difficult thing to manage.
In her upbringing, Eugenie was closer to her Russian family and spent the main part of her life there. Her Babushka, or Grandmother, had a large family house, which was the centre for all visitors and meetings. Her life was happy and privileged, despite her parents suffering varying difficulties along the way. The main part of the book deals with her life, and that of her family, from before she was born, up to the Revolution. It is fascinating to read about someone who witnessed the Revolution at that time, even though she was distant from the main cities. At first, the only change was the removal of the national anthem and the picture of the Tsar from her school. Gradually, though, major changes, searches, arrests, shortages and violence invaded the families lives. There is no doubt that the author was a staunch Royalist and had a deep dislike and hatred of the new, changed government and their inability to feed and clothe the population of Archangel. Archangel was also a divided city, with some applauding the Bolshevik successes and others aiding the White troops. In 1920, Eugenie's mother decided to leave her husband and take her children home to Scotland, as food was scarce and the White troops had retreated. Luckily, she did leave before the thirties and Stalin's murderous reign, which severed contact with the rest of the family left behind in Russia.
This really is a vivid portrait of a place and time that has gone forever and I am truly grateful that the author wrote this extremely enjoyable book. I read the kindle edition of this biography and I would just like to mention that it included none of the photographs in the paperback version, as I checked in a bookshop the other day. I felt this was a shame as the illustrations were all black and white and I am sure they could have been included. It did not spoil my enjoyment of the book, but they would have enhanced it. Overall, though, an evocative and interesting read, well written and highly recommended.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 16 July 2010
Having previously read A Home By The Hooghly some years ago (and recently re-read it) this book was a most revealing and well written effort about a period about which there seems very little recoorded. The two books together present what was clearly a quite extraordinary life of unusual experiences. Highly recommended!