Catherine the Great by Robert K. Massie

Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert Massie was a book that read on a whim. I was testing out my new phone and wondered how well the OverDrive app would sync with the app on my tablet. To test it, I downloaded Catherine the Great from my local library, and started to read.

Robert K. Massie in turn delivered a fascinating story about a discouraged and unloved young Prussian princess who had high expectations for her life. The young girl wanted to be powerful, and she intended to find a way to be so. When the story began in Prussia, I was at first startled: I thought Catherine the Great was a Russian Empress? The strong personality of the young girl and the intrigue into how? kept me reading. Continue Reading

Breaking Stalin’s Nose by Eugene Velchin

Breaking Stalin’s Nose by Eugene Velchin is a lighthearted look at a serious time in Russian history. From the other books I reviewed this week about Pakistan child slavery and the Sudanese civil war, I have had a heavy week for reviewing difficult subjects. Breaking Stalin’s Nose, on the other hand, is a completely fictional story, but it still rings true.Continue Reading

Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol

In early nineteenth century Russia, one’s status is decided based on how many enslaved workers (serfs) under your name. Likewise, property owners do not pay taxes on the land own but rather on the number of serfs assigned to them at the last census. Even if a serf dies, a property owner must pay taxes on him or her until the next census rights it. In Dead Souls, Chichikov is an up-and-coming middle class man who has cleverly decided on a get rich quick scheme: buy dead serfs (called “souls”) from property owners to use as collateral in purchasing things for himself.

Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol (published 1842) is a complex satire. And yet, supposedly Gogol did not intend it to be a satire. In all seriousness, he wrote that this part of the novel (part 1 was the only part he completed; part 2 was unfinished and part 3 never begun) was representative of Dante’s Inferno. This is, to me, a stretch, but I can see it. With the humor in the text, however, I saw Dead Souls as far more than a look at the depredation of man’s soul in post 1812 Russia. I saw it as an amusing satire of Russian society in general.

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War and Peace Redux: Making History

Sharing just my initial reactions are not enough for War and Peace, given its length and depth. I feel I should think about it some more. I’m ready to do so, now that I’ve let it sit for a week.

I think I needed that week. I have not read much at all this week so far (about 70 pages since I finished War and Peace last Tuesday morning). I’ve organized my thoughts into discussion questions for my book group (which met Wednesday night), and now I’m returning to the novel after a few days where I honestly didn’t think of Tolstoy, the War of 1812, or Napoleon at all.

Revisiting the novel through my initial reaction on finishing it and by reading all of your comments has been beneficial in organizing my afterthoughts. Emily says that when she feels impatience with a book, she slows down and asks herself, “Huh, this is an interesting choice the author is making…wonder what that’s about.”  That is exactly what I didn’t want to do for this particular novel, but she’s right.Continue Reading