- Paperback: 416 pages
- Publisher: Canongate Books; Main edition (7 Mar. 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1782110518
- ISBN-13: 978-1782110514
- Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.5 x 19.8 cm
- Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars See all reviews (66 customer reviews)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 331,440 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The People's Act Of Love Paperback – 7 Mar 2013
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"A quite extraordinary novel" (Philip Pullman)
"Vivid, brutal and exhilarating" (Daily Mail)
"The best and most originalbook that I have read for years" (Louis de Bernières)
"James Meek's immense and consistently impressive narrative incorporates the bizarre-but-true extremes of post-revolutionary Russia. . . Meek keeps the sensational elements at the service of a profound, propulsive plot, while maintaining a pleasingly sardonic edge throughout. . . All this plus an unflinching castration scene which presents a truly eye-watering account of severe pain in the Urals." (Guardian)
"I was gripped by James Meek's Siberian western The People's Act of Love... With admirable confidence Meek combines big country and big characters to create a sort of intellectual epic, which I enjoyed for its revelation of a fascinating corner of 20th-century history." (Michael Palin)
"[It] has the strangeness and clarity of a dream. This is historical fiction that transcends the genre - as intense as a thriller, imagined on an epic scale." (The Times)
"Meek's study of slow de-humanisation and his characters' ultimate willingness to sacrifice personal happiness and, in many cases, much more for an intangible ideal is, in terms of story-telling and intellectual suggestiveness, addictive." (Observer)
"A strikingly unusual and ambitious novel. . . Violence and sensuality commingle in a tense, complex thriller with the sweep and flavour of Russia." (Sunday Telegraph)
LONGLISTED FOR THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE 2005See all Product description
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Top Customer Reviews
From my own perspective, The People's Act of Love was slow to come together - to see how the various strands inter-related. The first half dragged a little - the second half flew by. It is perhaps true that some of the characters could have been more strongly defined, but only at the expense of the others. The basic premise of four central characters with no one star; no central transaction makes for a complex web of plotlines and more relationships than the typical novel. And this is a story of survival, rather than development.
I don't want to spoil the shocks - although other reviewers have. Mostly they are not delivered as bombshells, but are great crescendoes that have been worked towards over many pages. This may lessen the shock factor, but they add to the authenticity. In any case, the shock elements are really background texture in a novel that is really about human spirit. Ultimately, the book is about non-linear, complex love. It wends contrary patterns, steeped in enormous and graphic detail. The real test, though, is that when the story has ended, the images remain - deeply engrained.
The People's Act of Love is clearly not going to be to everyone's taste. It is not the greatest historical epic ever written. It is not an easy or light read, either. It is a measured and elaborate story, set in an obscure part of history and an obscure part of the world, that slowly works its magic without you realizing. If that is the type of novel that floats your boat (it floats mine) then give it a try. Then perhaps follow it up with This Thing of Darkness by Harry Thompson.
Most reviewers find the book well-written, although a few found the language to be slow-going. A novel doesn't need to be an easy read in order to be well-written. I agree that the reading was a little slow at times, but I attribute that to the richness of the language.
The plot and setting are definitely original, and the author can only be given credit for that. The story focuses on the arrival in a small Siberian village of an escaped prisoner, who claims he is pursued by a cannibal. As the novel unfolds, we meet a group of stranded Czech soldiers, a community of eunuchs, and are left wondering who the cannibal really is... Most events, like the presence in Siberia of Czech soldiers, are based on historical fact.
The author spends much of his efforts on character development. He devotes large chunks of the first 150 pages to the lives and background of the various characters. This may give the impression at times that the storyline is going off on a tangent, and can explain why some reviewers found the plot boring or confusing.
However, character development is fundamental to the understanding of the book's main theme, which centers on different people's perception of love and the acts of stupidity and folly it can engender.
I will conclude by agreeing with one reviewer who claims that although all the ingredients were there, the author could perhaps have mixed them better. Had he done so, the book would have been a true masterpiece. A good and entertaining read all the same.
Yuri Zhivago, who uttered these words in Boris Pasternak’s classic tale Dr. Zhivago, would no doubt find common bond with the setting and characters that inhabit James Meek’s wonderful book “The People’s Act of Love”.
Most of the People’s Act is set in 1919 in the village of Yazyk, in Siberia. To call Yazyk the middle of nowhere is to give it too much credit. Russia, now the USSR, is in the midst of its post-revolutionary civil war that has caused untold deaths and facilitated illnesses and famine. Yazyk’s end-of-the earth location does not insulate it entirely from these events. The town is run by a stranded division of a Czechoslovakian Legion with no apparent means to return to Prague subsequent to the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Legion is commanded by Captain Matula who for all intents and purposes is both insane and sadistic. The civilians in the town consist mainly of a mystic sect of eunuchs (the “Skoptsy”) who believe their self-immolation removes the one body part responsible for most of the world’s sins. As far fetched as this may seem, the presence of stranded Czech soldiers and the existence of a sect of castrati inhabiting parts of Siberia is a matter of record and was not a piece of fiction created by Meek solely for this novel.
The town is also inhabited by Anna Petrovna, who appears to be a widow, and her son. The Red Army is making its way towards Yazyk and intends to seek revenge for an act of brutality committed by the Czechs. A younger stranger, Samarin, makes his way into the town.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
It’s very rare that I contemplate giving up on a book but I struggled badly with this for the first half and was very tempted to move on to something else. Read morePublished 8 months ago by Damo Green
The People's Act Of Love is an intense swirl of characters and intertwining lives set against the bitterly cold and hostile environment of Siberia in the aftermath of the First... Read morePublished 20 months ago by Stephanie Jane
Manages to combine actual historical facts interwoven into a narrative so original it kept me hooked from start to finish.Published 23 months ago by BahaNick
This is a great read, a well written thriller with a philosophical perspective on human nature subtly woven into the narrative.Published on 13 Jan. 2014 by Honest Annie
Unforgettable, vivid, unique, tough. Something the ghosts of Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Conrad and Solzhenitsyn might have written together if they had all taken drugs for a month,... Read morePublished on 13 Nov. 2013 by Issie
The People's Act of Love is set, for the most part, in the Siberian town of Yazyk in 1919. The town has been taken over by a legion of Czech soldiers facing the imminent arrival of... Read morePublished on 22 Oct. 2013 by Calypso
As a voracious reader, I enjoy many, many books, but finding one that stands out from the crowd like The People's Act of Love is still a rare find. Read morePublished on 14 Oct. 2013 by Michelle A
This novel has much to commend it, but in the final analysis it failed to convince me in several respects. Read morePublished on 6 Oct. 2013 by Colin Macaulay
An amazing tale of strange events in a forgotten (and frozen) corner of revolutionary Russia. The story is full of seemingly wierd yet accurate historical details that illuminate... Read morePublished on 15 April 2013 by Mr. A. Theasby