Thursday, July 24, 2014

What I'm reading in Russia

I started with Darkness at Noon, published in 1941, set in the 1930s during Stalin's purges. It's beautifully written and thought provoking. Because of my lack of knowledge about Russian history, it was difficult initially to orient myself to the plot-tangle. Rubashov is an old Bolshevik, one of the original revolutionaries and a hero of the civil war. Now in his 50s, he's been imprisoned for colluding against No. 1 (Stalin). The novel structure is organized around three "hearings" during which Rubashov is slowly manipulated (maybe?) into agreeing to confess in a public trial to plotting an attempt on No. 1's life. During each section (Hearing 1, Hearing 2), Rubashov philosophizes and reminisces, and it's during the reminiscences that the reader learns how deeply committed Rubashov was to the international communist party, and the emergence of his misgivings about the work he does for the Stalinist party. One cannot feel deep connection to this hero/anti-hero, and it's difficult to sustain sympathy for Rubashov as an individual; however, it's easy to learn sympathy for the culture that produced him and the ideology that entrapped him.

I started reading this on my Kindle, after seeing my 15 year old friend Sasha reading it on her tablet. She's a huge Tolstoy fan, and I figured, if she can do it, I can too! Plus we're going to St. Petersburg together next week, and I thought it would be fun to read it along with her while seeing some of the sights Tolstoy includes in the story.