Top critical review
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Russian literature full of insight, but a tough read!
on 28 January 2016
For someone that knows very little about the history of the Soviet Union and what life was like under Stalin, I'm glad I picked up this book. I learnt a lot, and enjoyed reading chapters from various patients' and staff's point of view, all interesting characters with a full and slowly-revealed back story. Having also just read a modern account of an author's battle with cancer, the comparison between the diagnosis process and treatments 60 years ago and now was also fascinating.
I have given it only three stars, as from a personal point of view, it was quite hard work to get through. At some points I was fully immersed in the story, at others, I was struggling to keep going through a heavily metaphorical, or reference-laden conversation between two patients. As someone unfamiliar with the culture, I relied on the footnotes to give me context and I'm sure I missed a lot of the hidden meaning. The description calls it an 'allegorical masterpiece' but I think there was probably a lot of symbolism I didn't quite grasp that might add to the reading experience for someone with more understanding!
If you like Russian literature or heavy historical fiction, then I am sure you will enjoy it. If that's not your usual read, however, be prepared for a bit of hard work to get through it!