By: Edward Rutherfurd
Format/Source: Mass bound paperback; my purchase
Spanning 1800 years of Russia’s history, people, poltics, and culture, Edward Rurtherford, author of the phenomenally successful SARUM: THE NOVEL OF ENGLAND, tells a grand saga that is as multifaceted as Russia itself. Here is a story of a great civilization made human, played out through the lives of four families who are divided by ethnicity but united in shaping the destiny of their land.
This was my first Edward Rutherfurd novel. I read it back in 2008, when I was finishing up my undergraduate programme and was eyeballs-deep studying Russian history 😛 I was impressed by it but I never wrote a proper review of the book here on the blog. Ever since reading some of his other books (see author tag), I had been meaning to revisit this book.
As before, what astounds me about Rutherfurd’s novels is how he brings history to life in such a concise manner. It’s been a while since I’ve touched anything predominantly related to Russian history but re-reading this book, I found myself nodding and saying, “Yes, I remember studying that.” It obviously doesn’t replace a nonfiction title outlining Russian history or anything, but it does present enough of the struggles and changes that Russia had undergone over the centuries, the invaders they’ve fought, the customs they’ve assimilated (either willingly or unwillingly), the constant search for their identity. From medieval Russia, the establishment of Moscow, the coming of Peter I and the Westernisation of Russia to the Russian Revolution, the book covers all the major events right up to 1991 and the collapse of the Soviet Union. One cannot help but wonder how this novel should end had it been written and completed now as opposed to the early 1990s.
As detailed and accurate as the historical facts and events are, I do agree with the quote from…I don’t even remember from where any more *blushes*…that commented how the characters in this novel play second fiddle to the historical events. Indeed the historical backdrop is important, but as a novel I didn’t quite find the characters as interesting or compelling as they could’ve, or indeed as they are in his later Paris. The reader follows generations of characters from particular family trees but it seems best to treat each chapter/period in history as a short story: some were much more interesting than others, but all operating under the conditions of the time they live in.
It was great to re-read Russka again, especially to reacquaint myself with the richness and complexity of Russian history. The research is sublime, but the stories contained in the chapters can be a hit or miss depending on the kind of stories you enjoy in historical fiction. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this book to start with if you want to check out Edward Rutherfurd’s books but it is definitely worth checking out if you’re into epic historical fiction.