18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Anarchy in the Ukraine: A beautiful depiction of the imbecility of war and its messy aftermath
I am one of those people who believe that the greatest novels have already been written. I also believe that they were written by Russians. Following on from the towering edifices of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky et al in the nineteenth century Mikhail Bulgakov (along with Mikhail Sholokov) was a worthy successor. This, his first work (originally recast into a play), tells the...
Published on 30 Mar. 2008 by Trevor Coote
2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Chronicle of a disappearing world
No less than four sides vie for control of Kiev in 1918. White Guard follows the fortunes of the monarchist Turbin family during this fateful year. The order of the ancien régime has collapsed and the Turbins find that, not only have their old routines gone by the wayside, but they've actually become a threat to them.
Published on 17 Jan. 2010 by Dublin 4
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Anarchy in the Ukraine: A beautiful depiction of the imbecility of war and its messy aftermath,
I am one of those people who believe that the greatest novels have already been written. I also believe that they were written by Russians. Following on from the towering edifices of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky et al in the nineteenth century Mikhail Bulgakov (along with Mikhail Sholokov) was a worthy successor. This, his first work (originally recast into a play), tells the story of how the tumult of WWI/Revolution/Civil War impacted upon the unfortunate citizens of Kiev (then within the Russian Empire) as the city dissolves into a morass of confusion, turmoil and fear. White Guard royalists, Bolsheviks, Ukrainian nationalists, Cossacks, the rump German army, Poles, and even Senegalese troops, fight it out with nobody having the least notion of what is happening or even why. Commands and counter-commands, retreats, advances, rumours, counter-rumours, flight, corpses, chaos...
Whereas Tolstoy had sought to unravel the meaning and causes of war and Andreyev to describe graphically the horror, Bulgakov depicts the imbecility, the sheer monumental stupidity of it all, and its messy aftermath. He does this with a rare sensitivity through the experiences of the young Turbin family, a family of Tsarist patriots who live in an apartment in central Kiev. Following the death of their mother, twenty-eight year old Alex, a doctor, is left as the eldest, with his married (and abandoned) sister Elena, teenage brother Nikolai and their maid Anyuta. As ever with Russian novels in this tradition, we see the world through the eyes of real, thinking, feeling people, an ordinary family, caught up in the turbulence and having to make life-changing decisions with minimal or no information on which to base those decisions, and deeply concerned about the consequences of their actions on both their family and their own notions of self-worth. Like War and Peace, this book is a deeply moving look at the way different individuals respond to life's challenges and emerge as greater or lesser people.
The true tragedy for the people of the Ukraine (from 1922 a republic of the Soviet Union) is that this period of upheaval was followed by far greater horrors: the purges, the famine, the gulag, the Great Patriotic War; human sacrifices and loss on a scale that no other European country save neighbouring Russia and Poland has ever comparably suffered. As for Bulgakov, well it was a few years yet before he was to produce his fantasy masterpiece, The Master and Margarita, but this is a genuine classic, too.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sub-Tolstoyan,
This edition was translated by Michael Glenny, a seasoned and reliable translator of Russian novels and more. Mikhail Bulgakov's work came late to publication in English (from 1967) and is still not as well known as it should be. The Master And Margarita (Penguin Classics), begun in 1928 and completed sometime before his death in 1940, but not officially published until 1966, is his greatest work, but White Guard (1926) also merits attention as a novel, as a semi-autobiographical work, and as a document of the Civil War waged over Kiev, Ukraine and Russia following the October 1917 revolution.
Bulgakov asserted that Kiev changed hands 14 times during 1918-19 and that he personally witnessed 10 of those changes. This novel presents just a snapshot; the departure of the German Imperial Army and its puppet, the Hetman of Ukraine; their replacement by the opportunist peasant leader Petlyura; and his departure 47 days later as the Bolshevik Red Army advanced on the city. In the background are the Ukrainian nationalist movement that briefly held Ukraine as an independent sovereign state, and the White Guard, supporting Imperial Russia and reinstatement of the Tsar. Bulgakov's alter ego, Alexie Turbin, and his brother Nikolai are White Guard officers who, along with a number of friends also featured in the novel (and indeed much of the population of Kiev), are placed in danger of their lives as Petlyura takes over the city.
Bulgakov's view of war leans towards the Tolstoyan - the utter insignificance, historically, of Petlyura, and of the puppet Hetman before him, of whose pompous strutting and inability to speak Ukrainian Bulgakov makes comedy; the sheer waste of life, youth and energy sacrificed in fighting war. "Everything passes away, suffering, pain, blood, hunger, pestilence. The sword will pass away too, but the stars will still remain when the shadows of our presence and our deeds have vanished from the earth. There is no man who does not know this. Why then will we not turn our eyes towards the stars? Why?" Bulgakov also seems to foresee tribulations yet to come for Ukraine; "Blood is cheap on those red fields, and no-one would redeem it. No-one."
But the novel is not all philosophical reflection; far from it. There is plenty of military action, written, as with Tolstoy, with the authority of personal experience and woven into the domestic and civic circumstances of the participants, plus a loving description of the Bulgakov family home as it can still be seen in Kiev. For those acquainted with Kiev, it is also possible to trace much of the action, street by street. Civil War brings battlefield and domestic hearth excruciatingly close. Although the centenary of the Russian Revolution fast approaches, Bulgakov's novel remains very much a document for our time.
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fine, modern, touching work from a brilliant author,
Other than War and Peace, I can think of no better evocation of the random horror of war; like Tolstoy, Bulgakov doesn't allow us to draw easy conclusions in this, his first novel. The disjointed tapestry of a narrative is by turns anecdotal, fantastical (Satan swinging in the belfry is a wonderful image) and epic-heroic - and then just when you've settled in a comfortable reading pattern (as far as this is ever possible with Bulgakov) some terrible act of violence will shock you. It's not quite the finished article (see M&M), but the mixture of experimentation and classical realism is an engaging blend, making for a great read.
I would heartily recommend this to any fan of modern fiction, and anyone who's wondering where to go after Master and Margarita.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent story of ordinary people at war,
`The White Guard' follows the story of a few days in the lives of a Ukranian family (the Turbins) living in Kiev during the final days of Russia's participation in WWI and with the revolution impending. The city is braced for the attack of the communists, led by the infamous and demonic figure of Petlyuria , putting its faith in the German army and Ukranian Hetman Skoropodsky for protection. As the townsfolk organise themselves into resistance movements, it soon becomes clear that Skoropodsky and the Germans have decided to abandon the people of Kiev to their fate. The Turbins, along with many others, rush to the defence of Kiev, only to find that their resistance has crumbled into an embarrassing mess as the war is lost before a shot is fired in anger. The book focuses on the actions of the people of Kiev, and the Turbins in particular, as they resign themselves to losing the war.
This book was less fantastic than `The Master and Marguerita', though some wonderful demonic imagery creeps in every now and then. Its strength lies in the contrast it draws between the glorious ideals of war and its rather banal reality. When Petlyuria's men take Kiev the people pour onto the streets in celebration, despite the fact that they despise him, and despite the fact that many of the celebrating people have no idea who has won. In the midst of this surreality, a brutal execution takes place, a reminder of the horrors going on around them. The resistance is presented as being a righteous cause, but right is ultimately not enough as might prevails. The final scenes, in which the Turbins abandon their dreams of fighting for a free Ukraine and begin to resign themselves to life under the Soviets are heartbreaking, both for their sense of failure and their sense of futility.
This is one of the best books about ordinary people at war that I have read (though not as good as Skvorecky's `The Cowards'). The contrast between what we think war is and what it is actually like is brilliantly realised, and by the end of the book I really felt the Turbins' despair. The events being told are firmly rooted in history, albeit a history I was largely ignorant of, which made it an interesting read anyway, but Bulgakov's superb writing and easy style meant that this book was a pleasure to read.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fierce critic,
In this novel about the civil war in Ukraine (we are in 1918), a white guard had to defend the city of Kiev against the Nationalist army of Symon Petliura. The city swarmed with Russian bourgeois (bankers, industrialists, politicians, journalists and their loved ones) who had fled other (Russian) cities which had fallen into the hands of the Red Army. They all dreamed of a visa in order to escape to a foreign country.
The bourgeoisie had initially relied on the protection of the German army. But after the Brest-Litovsk agreements between Lenin and the German Emperor, only its own militia, the Junkers, was left to defend the city against the nationalists and the Bolsheviks. Unfortunately, the Junkers, if not drunk, were completely inapt soldiers: more than sixty percent of them could not hold a gun properly. In addition, they had been abandoned by their military staff and even by the Supreme Ukrainian Leader, the Hetman, who had fled to Germany.
In front of the huge nationalist army, the leader of the Junkers, Colonel Malyshev, understood fortunately all too well the situation. There was only one solution to prevent a total slaughtering of the white troops: the order of `soldiers go home and take off your epaulettes'.
Blindness, dreams and reality
It was only when the cannons roared around the city, that the bourgeoisie began to understand that the peasants hated their lords like rabid dogs. The only reform they wanted was the one which from eternity on obsessed the farmers: all the land to the peasants and for every piece of land a stamped paper guaranteeing perpetual and hereditary possession.
But a spokesman for the author interpreted the situation all too correctly: 'if people don't respect property any more. It's all over'. The new owners could lose in turn all their possessions by new `legal' thefts (the novel was written during the years 1923-1924).
Critique of humanity
M. Boulgakov sees this part of the history of the civil war in Russia and Ukraine through the eyes and the tribulations of a white family. It is only at the end that the book transcends this distorted view.
Like L. Tolstoy in 'The Death of Ivan Ilyich', the author attacks ferociously the whole of mankind: above the Dnieper rose at midnight the dark cross of St. Vladimir. From a distance, it seemed that the cross changed into a sharp and threatening sword. Everything will pass away, all suffering, torment, blood, hunger and plagues. Only the stars will remain; there will be no traces of our bodies and of all our doings. So why do we not turn our eyes to the stars? '
One can only but highly recommend this story of love and betrayal, with scenes of war and banditry written in a pure Hollywood style and with images of crowds worthy of Jheronimus Bosch.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't fear Russian litrature!,
I am no literati and cannot claim to be an avid reader of Russian novels but having stumbled upon Mistress and Margerita (which I confess I enjoyed although did not entirely understand it) I progressed onto The White Guard.
Other than Paradise Lost: Smyrna 1922 (non-fiction) I have never read anything that pulls you into the claustrophobia of a doomed city. Without descending into cliches, the tension is truly palpable. The complexity of the situation in The Ukraine with a three-way battle for control demonstrates again how reality can be more ingenious than the best fiction writer when it comes to plot lines.
Despite the apparent confidence in themselves exhibited by the Turbin family, you get a real sense that they are in denial or at the very least, in ignorance of the true state of affairs. You can taste the bitter sense of betrayal when it comes and you get utterly caught up in the chaos, pandemonium and sheer fear as a victorious army comes into contact with the defeated populace of a city about to fall.
The street by street account as the tide of the enemy encroaches deeper and deeper into the city is nail biting. But don't think this is all shooting and battles because oddly it is not. Whilst it is about a military family during a siege during a bitter civil war, the focus is on the people and how they perceive and feel about the great events washing around them.
I can only assume that this and the same publishers version of M&M are good translations: I don't know much about Bulgakov but he comes across in both books as having a dry wit and a beautiful turn of phrase that does not seem to have been lost in translation.
Don't fear Russian litrature; This is a good place to start.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars ukraine, a century ago. same old same old,
the lack of clarity is annoying, until you realize that it exactly describes what people were thinking as events unfolded. useful comparisons could be made to present circumstances and the simplistic rhetoric used to describe a very complex situation
5.0 out of 5 stars An outstanding literary work,
This review is from: White Guard (Kindle Edition)
I know Bulgakov is most well known for Master and Margarita; but that book requires an understanding of the Soviet system, which was not in place when White Guard was written. This book is about the still unsettled remains of the Russian Empire; the Bolsheviks do not yet have absolute control; except in Russia itself perhaps; and that somewhat tenuously. The other states want self determination; and Ukraine with it's own language is the stage on which this tale is set. Ukraine - for long controlled by first the Poles and then German settlers wants to rule itself. The Russians or Russe - who came from Ukraine originally want to retain the Tsarist way and foreign Governments and nations seek to dominate the outcome. All of this Bulgakov weaves together in this tragic tale where lives are destroyed brutally amidst incompetence of a staggering nature. The outcomes are neither predictable nor are they always desirable; but this is what happened
I have now read all of Bulgakov's translated works and I would recommend them to anyone. Here is humour and tragedy and heroism in a truly epic book of the early twentieth century. I was spellbound until the last page. I loved all of the characters with their imperfections that somehow endeared them to me even more. Read this book please I beg you!
5.0 out of 5 stars Pitch perfect,
This review is from: The White Guard (Vintage Classics) (Kindle Edition)
Bulgakov is best known for Master and Margarita, which appears on University syllabuses, yet that perfectly enjoyable book is, compared to this wonderful novel, too clever-clever and distinctly plodding. White Guard opens ominously: "Great and terrible was the year of Our Lord, 1918, of the Revolution the second." And then, incredibly, maintains this dramatic pitch right throughout the book.
The fear and wondering, the 'living with the not knowing' and the sense that this will end badly, are all intoxicating. It conveys more than a factual book ever could about that time and place (Kiev during the Revolution) by getting you to share in exactly how people felt.
The novel was dramatised in 1926 in Russia. Curiously, though it is not at all a pro-Bolshevik story (an obviously ironic sop is thrown to the Bolsheviks at the end) Stalin went to see the play fifteen times. He banned it on and off afterwards, in his perverse way. Point is, even such a hard-line Bolshevik like him (and the line doesn't get much harder than Joe Stalin) could not resist its power.
14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 1,
This book is about people in an rapidly changing time. About their hopes and lyrical memories of the life they left far behind and fears for the future. The book is full of tender love inside the Turbin family and a sharp contrast with cruel reality.
The book shows the revolutions events from the opposite "white guards" side and was forbiden in USSR for a long time.
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The White Guard (Vintage Classics) by Mikhail Bulgakov