Coming-of-age in Russia, 1916-19, is seen through the eyes of a young poet.
Marina Dmietrievna Makarova is an upper-class Petrograd teenager with literary aspirations and a major crush on one of her big brother’s soldier friends, who sweeps her out of school and into bed one snowy day. As the chaos of World War I segues into the economic deprivation and social disintegration of the Bolshevik Revolution and its aftermath, Marina is drawn into left-wing politics and ends up leaving her bourgeois family to join a cadre of bohemians, one of whom is a new boyfriend who shares her passion for poetry. While for the first several hundred pages Fitch (Paint It Black, 2006, etc.) seems committed to dramatizing the upheavals of this period in Russian history in a fairly straightforward way, she eventually sends her heroine off the main stage of history and down various rabbit holes—sexual bondage and torture, a spiritualist cult, a weird interlude at an astronomical observatory. The book is reasonably well-written and -researched, and Fitch’s quick-witted, resilient, redheaded heroine is no worse than any other quick-witted, resilient, redheaded heroine, but a book that is nearly 1,000 pages long—quite a bit longer than War and Peace, gaining on Infinite Jest—needs more than linear storytelling. What’s the point? It’s never clear, and the ending, which abandons earlier plotlines and characters, throws in a pregnancy, and then just trails off into the snow, is no help at all. Nor is a brief prologue set in 1932 in Carmel by the Sea, California.
Clearly, a great deal of hard work and passion for the subject went into the writing of this book—but its length may daunt readers.