"No foreign sky protected me,
no stranger's wing shielded my face,
I stand a witness to the common lot,
survivor of that time and place."
It has to be said that although I'm a push over for a great book cover I'm likely to be a complete sucker if a writer uses an extract from Anna Akhmatova's Requiem on the first page. It was both these that kept me reading a book that I may just have been tempted to give up on, but thankfully I did persevere with The Russlander by Sandra Birdsell
It was the haunting look in this child's eyes that did for me.
The novel is set in a Mennonite community living in the steppes of pre-revolutionary Russia where Katya Vogt's father manages the wealthy Sudermann family estate of Privol'noye. Liberally scattered with enough historical references to the events in the build up to the revolution that made sense to me thanks to a read earlier this year of Orlando Figes memorable book Natasha's Dance.
I want desperately to rave about The Russlander, that cover haunts me still, but somehow I can't quite.It's the style that I struggled to get to grips with but probably all intentional and all down to me.
That confusion that reigns around a huge cast of characters when you constantly hear the consequences of an event before you know the details of the event itself. It all requires some blind faith reading underpinned by a large dose of my own brand of Keats' Negative Capability; when a man is capable of being in mysteries, uncertainties, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact and reason (forget trying to understand it, just carry on reading and it will all sort out in a few pages time)
Yes it all mirrors the young Katya's view of events and her limited understanding of what is happening but I never quite made the leap into emotional involvement with this book, something kept me at arm's length.However this may have been Sandra Birdsell's tactic to spare me the post reading -traumatic stress disorder that could have otherwise been inevitable. When you read on the opening page a detailed account of the 1917 massacre at Privol'Noye and the books starts in 1910 you know you've 7 years to go before it will all end in tears.
That said I still have to give it 4* and don't let my dilemmas put you off.