Jay Lake (jaylake) wrote,
Jay Lake
jaylake

[books] The Secret History of Moscow

Finished reading squirrel_monkey's The Secret History of Moscow Amazon ] last night. It's a very strange book, in all the right ways. She draws on the traditions of Russian folklore twinned with Russian history, creating tropes and characters which are unfamiliar to most American readers.

There's a certain arch consciousness of this within the text, as when one of the few non-Russian characters says:

"What sort of culture invents a spirit whose only purpose is to throw onions and shriek at night? It's just stupid."

The response:

A blood-curdling shriek answered him from somewhere behind the pipes.

"Oh shut up," he said. "Bloody banshee wannabe."

The cries sputtered and stopped in an uncertain whine.


A strange combination of humor and fatalism runs through the text. I lived in the Eastern Bloc during the deep days of the Cold War — squirrel_monkey's descriptions of modern Moscow ring very true to me. (As a Russian emigré, she should know.)

Something that impresses me a great deal about this book is a completely extra-textual fact about the author. English is not squirrel_monkey's cradle language. Much like Joseph Conrad, she learned it as an adult. I cannot fathom moving to another country, another culture, adopting their language, then acheiving sufficient fluency to write lyrical fiction in my new tongue. That she has done so, and created a fascinating journey through the id of one of the world's greatest and most tragic cities, is noteworthy indeed. Go read it.
Tags: books, klog
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