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Who Is to Blame?: A Russian Riddle Paperback – October 7, 2016
"A glimpse into the day-to-day lives of the Russian people during thenineteenth century. As you immerse yourself in Jane's book, you willfeel the struggles of nobles and peasants alike, as though you werewalking in their very shoes. Brilliant!"
- Mark Schauss, host of the Russian Rulers History podcast
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Top customer reviews
The novel is a fact-dense piece of historical fiction about a particularly turbulent period in Russian history (aren't they all!): the 1840s through the 1860s, culminating in the emancipation of the serfs. It is full of the kind of period detail that historical fiction readers seem to like; in fact, in tone, despite its rather dark subject matter, it reminded me of a historical romance novel, with its careful--and obviously lovingly researched--descriptions of food, clothing, holidays, laws, and so on. This is not to say that it is a dry collection of facts, but rather that readers who enjoy that kind of novel are likely to take pleasure in the detailed (and astonishingly accurate for a Western work) descriptions of how the people of mid-19th-century Russia lived. The tragedy and brutality of people's day-to-day lives is depicted with courage, but there is also the hope that things could get better, and that the main characters will be able to turn their lives around and find some kind of happiness.
Like any good historical novel, it starts off slowly, allowing the reader to become immersed in the characters and their world, but the tension builds and builds, and I found the last 100 pages completely enthralling. It ends not exactly on a cliffhanger, but in a place that suggests the possibility of a sequel, hinting at a family saga-type series. This is not a light read, and English speakers may struggle a bit with the Russian names (although they are presented with the maximum possible clarity for non-Russian-speakers), but anyone looking for a satisfyingly dense historical novel about Russia would do well to check this book out.
My thanks to NetGalley for providing a review copy of this book.
This story follows two main families in the village/estate of Petrovo, Russia: Elizabeta Anafrev of the serf/peasant class and the Maximov family of the noble class, led by Count Stepan Maximov. The book follows Elizabeta and Stepan throughout their lives, even intermingling from time to time. Stepan is in charge of his estate and his serfs, and the caste system keeps the serfs always a bit hungry and overworked while the noble class enjoys lavish dinners and fancy balls.
The disconnect between the aristocracy and the common folk was often astonishing for me. One winter in particular, Elizaveta and her family starve, and she gets gravely ill. Stepan ends up buying grain for the peasants to use, but according to them he never really does enough, and they are always in his service though Stepan is a rather benevolent ruler. I couldn't imagine living through those trying times, especially a woman as strong-willed and outspoken as Elizaveta. She's got a lot of things working against her: town gossip threatens to ruin her reputation from time to time, and she's in love with her best friend Feodor. The problem? Feodor and Elizaveta are spiritual family - his parents are her godparents and therefore it is completely forbidden for them to ever have a romantic relationship. Then, as an agreement with Count Maximov, the children of marrying age in the village have to have marriages arranged. It's almost certain that Feodor and Elizaveta will never be able to be together.
Or is it?
The story spans decades, starting with Elizaveta and moving on to her married life with her abusive husband and her children. Similarly, the story for the Maximov estate starts with Stepan and his wife Sophie after the death of one of their children, and the lives of the rest of their children through adulthood.
Through this interesting way of storytelling, The reader hears of the growth and progression of other characters, such as Feodor. I fell in love with these characters. The development of the characters in this story was unlike anything I've ever seen. The hardships, the happy moments, the despair. I was feeling it all and experiencing it all with them.
The end of the book leaves many loose ends to tie, and I like it that way. I daydream about a sequel, or at least what happens next. Fantastic read for me.
I expected to like and appreciate this novel much more that I actually did. It is about the serfs and the nobility in the 1800s just prior to the ending of serfdom. The book seemed to be very well researched and covers a place in time that I am not very familiar with so I was looking forward to the read.
But the characters seemed flat and one dimensional to me and there wasn't much growth there. When one writes a novel that covers this many years one expects to comprehend that growth. That took some of my enjoyment away from the book. I do know that there are many of you out there in the reading world who will most likely love this novel but sadly..........I am not one of them.
My thanks to NetGalley and River Grove Books for allowing me to read and review Who is to Blame?