The second installment of a young poet’s trials in war-torn Russia, 1919-1921.
In another massive tome, Fitch (The Revolution of Marina M., 2017, etc.) picks up where she left off—her heroine, Marina, once a bourgeois princess in a refined intellectual family in Petrograd, is now 19, pregnant, and desperately seeking work, shelter, and proletarian papers in the outlying burg of Tikhvin. Not long after she gets herself situated, her lusty nature gets her in trouble again—and then her long-lost poet husband (not the father of the child, unfortunately) rolls into town on an agit-prop train. Rescued from rural tedium, she’s off with the actors, sailors, and soldiers riding the rails. Up on the roof of one of the cars, she glories in a “soar of spirits I never expected to feel again.…Ah, the rush, the sweep of the horizon, this enormous country headed into its future! I felt like I was riding time itself, the sun on my face, the freshness of the fields, the great green expanse of Russia in the blue bowl of her heavens.” This will be one of her only happy moments in more than 700 pages of tumultuous plot, but no matter what grisly doom and miserable fate befall her, Marina continues to think big, in swathes of grand prose and plenty of quoted poetry. After she gives birth, she makes her way back to Petrograd, a city starving, collapsing, and writhing in agony. But on the plus side, she meets all the great writers of the period and is embraced as a promising new talent. The writer and activist Maxim Gorky plays a major role in the story; Blok, Mayakovsky, Akhmatova, Mandelstam, Gumilev, and many others are also on the scene. This part of the book seems a bit special interest for the general reader of historical fiction but will be a treat for fans of Russian literature. Since the first volume began with a prologue set in 1932 and this one only gets us to 1921, one wonders if Marina’s story will end here.
An unusual and passionate re-creation of the terrible tragedy of the Bolshevik Revolution and the timeless literary culture it produced.