The Bear and the Nightingale

It was late winter in Northern Rus’, the air sullen with wet that was neither rain nor snow.

Just like The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms an enthralling, easily accessible fantasy novel, with plenty of room for a cool (literally, in this case) female protagonist. Yay!

With my discovery of the CloudLibrary app (I’m not paid for this), I found a new way to more books. These are Express, so you can only borrow them for a week, meaning I just have to read faster. Alas.

As mentioned before, The Bear and the Nightingale is such an easy read, with only 300+ pages as well, that that time limit wasn’t an issue. It’s a (Russian) fairy tale about fairy tale elements being part of daily life. The young protagonist is too wild and strange for her family, and supports the ‘old’ gods and creatures besides Christianity. When the super religious join her house, things start rolling (into chaos).

I’m fond of reading stories set in Russia, and even though this is a romanticised version of history, it still gives an interesting look at early Moscow and its surroundings. But mostly it’s just a tasty morsel of a fairy tale that – even though it already got a sequel – can definitely stand on its own.

The Bear and the Nightingale, Katherine Arden, Penguin Random Publishing 2017

A Gentleman in Moscow

APPEARANCE OF COUNT ALEXANDER ILYICH ROSTOV BEFORE THE EMERGENCY COMMITTEE OF THE PEOPLE’S COMMISSARIAT FOR INTERNAL AFFAIRS

This was a book like a sofa. I feel like I’ve used this compliment before, which means that I have to go start looking for a new comparison. But spacious, comfortable and easy to stay put in.

Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov is a Former Person in the Soviet Union, which basically means that he’s part of all that was awful before the enlightened bolsheviks showed up. Because he wrote an amazing, wonderful, beautiful poem, they can’t just depart him. Instead, they tell him he can’t ever again leave the hotel he’s been staying  in (logical!).

And that’s where the book plays out, in a hotel. But luckily, not just any hotel. And the Count isn’t just any ordinary man. Time moves, people come and go, the Soviet changes, but the gentleman in Moscow is there.

I have yet to find a book involving Russia that doesn’t fascinate slash baffle me. This is one man’s story, this is a part of history. While being an appealing reason to sit down.

A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles, Viking 2016

The Tsar of Love and Techno

I am an artist first, a censor second.

Another recommendation from someone I don’t know. Short stories, which I don’t have the best track record on. But, USSR and Russia as the backdrop of all the stories, and stories interlocking in strange (and maybe amazing) ways. Alright, I’ll give it a try.

What had been the biggest draw remained the biggest plus: stories about Lenin and Stalin Soviet have yet to cease to amaze/boggle me.

As the back flap says: ‘Tsar‘ goes from a government censor to mine fields to space, and every sibling, child, friend ends up being connected to the previous one. It’s the family that never moved beneath the Arctic circle, the soldier, the criminal. All just try to live in the smallest matter, but the Soviet, and Russia, aren’t the creatures to allow that.

It’s neatly done, the connections reaching throughout the  chapters, but I couldn’t muster the stranger’s excitement about his book. it’s nice, it baffles, it didn’t change my world.

The Tsar of Love and Techno, Anthony Marra, Random House Canada 2015

Child 44

Since Maria had decided to die, her cat would have to fend for itself.

I was too late to watch the movie. I think I made the right decision reading the book (first).

No-one in the Soviet is safe from the system, not even those enforcing it. It all starts with the murder of a child. But murder is a crime, and crimes only happen in capitalist societies, so the protagonist has to deny it happening, naming it an accident to make it easier and safer for everyone. Of course that safety doesn’t last long.

How do you prove a crime if every authority wants it not to be one? Main character Leo and his wife quickly discover that it’s a brutal path, the communist society being another player in this detective story. The story itself is fiction, but every insane government rule or fear mongering is bizarre enough to be believed by the rule of truth being stranger than fiction.

For those interested in the Soviet and okay with pretty visual violence imagery, definitely a recommendation.

Child 44,  Tom Rob Smith, Simon & Schuster 2008