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Maid of Baikal: A Novel of the Russian Civil War Kindle Edition
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Zhanna, a messianic “Joan of Arc” character arises from a small village in Siberia and leads the White Russians into battle against the Communist Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution. Fighting the sexism and misogyny of that era and in that part of the world, Fleming creates a larger-than-life heroine who is powerful, compelling, and real. She is experienced through the eyes of an American army officer, fresh from the World War I battlefields of France and has been transferred to Siberia. The American government has sent US troops to Siberia to give limited non-combative aid to White Russians. While he is officially in charge of wireless communications for the railroad, in truth he is a spy and is more deeply involved in the politics and combat than his limited role suggests.
The setting of this historical novel was new and fascinating to me. Fleming describes the Siberian tundra vividly, and stitches the fiction with real history so seamlessly that it was difficult to separate history from fiction. Zhanna, the Joan of Arc character is three dimensional and believable. Ned, the American army officer who observes all, is as real to me as an old friend. The secondary characters are also well developed. As in a Tolstoy novel, these characters range from loveable to despicable, and Fleming has created them with all their strengths and foibles. He does the same with the historical characters, as well.
Enjoy a fascinating and absorbing read during the coming holidays!
I would have rated this book at five stars, but it is not without faults. For one, the author tried too hard to create a moral equivalency between the Reds and the Whites. The latter had many faults, but it is hard to imagine that Kolchak, Wrangel, and Denikin would have created a regime as vicious and murderous as the Reds already were in 1919, to say nothing of what they became a few years later under Stalin. And then the characters: Joan is fine, but many of the supporting cast are too shallow and/or obvious - more than cardboard, but not convincing.
The ending was too pat for my taste, but wrapped up all the threads. Mr. Fleming is clearly a talented writer, The last chapter of the book could serve as a basis of another volume set in the 1920's and 1930's in a world in which the Reds lost the Civil War. Given somewhat more effort with the characters, and with less editorializing, such a book would surely deserve five stars.