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It is 1919 in Yazyk, Siberia, far from anywhere. The war is waning, but its ravages remain. There is an uneasy detente between a group of Czech soldiers, marooned on the losing side and longing to go home, and a fanatical Christian sect that practices castration as a means of purifying themselves. One of their number is their leader, Balashov, married to a beautiful and restive photographer, Anna Petrovna, who has come to the village of Yazyk to raise her son, after learning of her husband's castration. Her fury knows no bounds. She gives herself to anyone who is interested as a means of shaming Balashov, and satisfying her own appetites.
Into this motley collection of people comes a stranger, Samarin, who says he has escaped from The White Garden, Russia's northernmost prison camp, a place of unbelievable barbarism. Shortly after his arrival, the village shaman, possessed of a third eye and an albino sidekick, is found murdered. Suspicion falls immediately on Samarin. In successive chapters, Meek has each person or faction tell his or her story. Samarin, a revolutionary, charismatic visionary, every bit as zealous as the castrates, tells of his escape. Matula, the crazy, cocaine-snorting leader of the Czechs, doesn't really want to go home, so he prevents his soldiers from leaving. Mutz, a sensible sort, quite taken with Anna, dreams of home and keeps hope alive among his soldiers. Balashov tells of what led him to castrate himself.
The hopes, wishes, dreams, and illusions of all these people converge in Meek's novel. He shows man as pure, base, megalomaniacal, rational, intelligent, incredibly stupid--every aspect of humanity is examined, especially compassion. Despite the horrid excesses of war--and peace--Meek, in their telling, weaves a completely believable story of what happens to people who are not just at the margins of the world, but at the edge of their ability to understand themselves and the world around them. (The people's act of love, by the way, has nothing to do with love: it is cannibalism.) Don't miss this extraordinary novel; it is hugely deep and satisfying. --Valerie Ryan --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
The kelp forest at the Monterey Bay Aquarium is a beautiful slice of the natural world. Everything the viewer sees comes from the bay outside. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Ian R Slutz
With apologies to D. Parker.
Stupid story. Dreamy language. Too clever by half. Made it through about 30 pages.
Go to "We are now beginning our Descent: A Novel" for my brief take on James Meek and his writingsPublished 14 months ago by Nora Lstine
This is a book about idealism. The characters tend to suffer from either a surfeit or a lack of the stuff. The prose style is somewhat over-wrought. Read morePublished on December 7, 2012 by Freelancer Frank
...and a BEAUTIFULLY crafted one. TPAoL has some of the most striking prose I've ever come across in a work of fiction. Read morePublished on March 23, 2011 by Librum
I was so surprised by the reviews that I had to chime in. I absolutely loved this book. If you are wondering whether you should get this book, get it. Read morePublished on September 30, 2010 by Book Diva
I just received the book and haven't read it yet. But the double fold out cover with media headlines give the book an awful cheap aspect. Read morePublished on April 24, 2010 by J. M. Serodio
James Meek completely consciously constructed a novel, which bows towards great Russian masters, especially Dostoyevsky. Read morePublished on April 13, 2010 by Aleksandra Nita-Lazar
I don't like writing reviews, but I felt obligated to when I saw so many tepid reviews for this great novel. Read morePublished on January 17, 2010 by Ellen Romano