The word ‘sweeping’ has never been better applied to a novel, and yet it is the minutiae which make this so compelling. It is in the way Lara leads Yuri through a darkened room full of furniture to get to her allocated rooms in the house, because it is decadent (and, therefore, illegal) to live in more than two rooms, but acceptable to leave them standing empty. It is in the description of Comissar Gintz, unwilling to turn and flee, and almost succeeding in making his executioners think twice, slipping on the lid of the water barrel he has climbed upon to give his speech. Suddenly, appearing comical, he is shot by Pamphil, the troubled insomniac who will later kill his own family with an axe to prevent them from falling into the hands of the Whites.
Yuri and Lara cross paths many times before they succumb to their passion. The sordid nature of their early encounters is a perfect foil for the later clarity of their love. Amidst the complicated turmoil of post-Revolutionary Russia, the simplicity of their affair is almost an illusion.
There are so many contrasts in this book, exemplified by the Red and White forces, revolution and counter-revolution. But what makes it especially tragic is the way in which the characters compromise. Yuri returns to Tanya; Lara succumbs to Komarovsky’s appeals. And Lenin introduces the New Economic Policy.There is also such an understanding of how turbulent national events have a profound effect on individuals.
This is not an easy book to read. The tale is a tangled one and the characters are referred to by a multitude of names, so unravelling the plot is a challenge, but it is one which is well worth the effort.
I have had a copy of this book for years. I was familiar with the film and thought I knew the story. But, by Omar, the experience of reading the, let’s not beat about the bush, poetry of this novel, has knocked me back.
I really didn’t think that the history of literature had any more surprises in store for me. I thought I had read “The Greats”. I have already discovered The Great Gatsby and To Kill a Mockingbird. But, I could almost have spilt my wine at the splendour of this.