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The Secret History of Moscow Paperback – November 1, 2007

3.7 out of 5 stars 22 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Sedia (According to Crow) applies urban fantasy templates to her Russian setting with mixed success in her second stand-alone novel. Masha, the cheerfully normal sister of vision-prone translator Galina, turns into a jackdaw and flies off, leaving her just-born child behind. Joined by police detective Yakov Richards, Galina tracks the missing Masha into an underground milieu where lost souls mingle with beings out of Russian folklore. A host of secondary characters rapidly clutter the narrative and cloud its focus, and Sedia's persistently curt prose favors contemporary atmosphere over mythic resonance, diminishing Koschey the Deathless and Zemun the Celestial Cow to near-mundane status. Modern blue-collar Moscow is pitch-perfect, however: bustling yet seedy, disorganized and none too respectable. While undeniably authentic, the cynical tone may alienate many Western readers before they reach the startling but well-grounded climax. On the whole, this wholeheartedly Russian tale is most compelling as social commentary. (Nov.)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: WILDSIDE PRESS LLC (November 1, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0809572230
  • ISBN-13: 978-0809572236
  • Product Dimensions: 0.9 x 5.2 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,147,309 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
People (including Neil Gaiman, by the blurb on the cover) keep comparing this to _Neverwhere_, but it reminded me much more of _American Gods._ It also reminded me of Little, Big and _So You Want to Be a Wizard._ The division between our world and the other is thin and has has holes, and troubles in one place reflect in the other. Although the author wastes no words, she creates characters you can believe in, whose feelings you can understnd. While not a funny book, it's hopeful. Read it.
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Format: Paperback
Russian urban fantasy is not normally my thing, but Sony was offering this free as a promotion on the E-Reader site, so I went ahead and downloaded it. Surprisingly, I quite liked it. It's certainly different from anything I've read before, and not just because it's fantasy, which I don't read much of although I make the occasional foray.

The story is told from several characters' points of view, but I'd say the primary character is Galina, a young woman in post-Soviet Russia who is working as a medical translator after her release from a mental institution for a vague form of schizophrenia that may or may not have been a complete fabrication by authorities under the old Soviet rule. Living in a dingy Moscow apartment with her mother and pregnant sister, Galina half-assumes her mental illness has returned when her sister locks herself in the bathroom, gives birth to the child, and then somehow disappears through a small window several stories from the ground. The only thing left is a black bird sitting on the windowsill, and Galina tries very hard NOT to believe that the bird is her sister - not to mention that suggesting such a thing to anyone could land her right back in the sanitarium - but can't fight the certainty that it is.

From here she's led to several others who are also having odd, inexplicable experiences involving mysterious birds, and portals into an underworld that can pose as anything from an illusory doorway to a puddle of oily water in an alley.
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Format: Paperback
Some compare this to Gaiman's Neverwhere, but this is quite different, I think, even if this too is kind of an urban fantasy where people go to an ... underground world. What I loved best in this book was all the Russian mythology, of which I know shamefully little - though it was fun to spot some familiar things. (Actually, the only reason I recognized some characters etc, like e.g Koshchey the Deathless, was because I've got one single fairytale by Eduard Uspensky. Pathetic.)

Anyway, this is a pretty good book - not excellent or anything, but worth reading if you happen to get this into your hands. Some people seem to be annoyed at the way the author keeps on interrupting the story: every time a new character is introduced, the story of his or her life is also told. But. At one point I started to get the feeling that _this_ in fact is the "secret history of Moscow", these stories of small people who otherwise wouldn't get their voice heard, who, behind the brilliant Russian/Soviet coulisse are not living so wonderful lives. This isn't just fantasy, but also offers an interesting look into the everyday life in Russia/Soviet Union.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In The Secret History of Moscow, Ekaterina Sedia captures the grey physical and emotional landscape of Moscow in the 90's and infuses it with haunting Russian mythos. The author's exploration of the supernatural clashing with reality creates a backdrop for social and economic commentary on Post-Soviet life.

But The Secret History of Moscow has neither bland prose nor flat characters (which is impressive considering the sheer breadth of characters we encounter in the book). These characters are given life by the author's lush, descriptive language. The details bring this world into sharp focus, and some of the imagery is utterly unforgettable. The bear is fantastic, as are the ways of entering the Underworld.

The population of Sedia's novel live in the distorted shadows of life--the people are hopeless and weary, and the gods and heroes have been relegated to the Underworld, no longer called upon by the modern folk. Yet it is in the hands of these fading myths and disillusioned antiheroes that the city and her people must ultimately find redemption.

Some have commented that they were unable to suspend disbelief as the "real life" characters met the folkloric ones and were not phased by the meeting. Western readers may fail to understand just what kind of presence these archetypes have in Russian (and Eastern European) ethos. They have not all been banished to the realm of children's fairy tales.

The mythical characters have a definite presence--an undertow in the murky waters of Russian cosmology. It's really not that hard to believe that they co-exist just out of reach, visible in the ripples of a puddle or in the reflection of a subway window. They should not be forgotten, and thanks to Ekaterina Sedia, I don't think they shall!
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