Friday, February 15, 2008

The Road to Calvary (part II) - post I

The second part of the Roads to Calvary is titled 1918 and this is a time of civil war in Russia. The battle for the country is being waged between Reds and Whites and Tolstoy splits the main male characters so they are fighting for different sides.

Things start with Dasha and Telegin in Petrograd, what was St Petersburg, starving and fighting the cold by burning pieces of furniture. They have had a son die after just a few days and their relationship is shattered by the shock and the misery. Meanwhile in the streets old colleagues of Telegin’s talk about revolution and fighting to defend the worker’s rights.

Meanwhile Katia and her officer Roshchin have made their way to Rostov, which has fallen to the Reds. Once in the city Roshchin is consumed by rage and leaves Katia to head off to the front. He joins the Reds with the intention of defecting to the Whites at the first opportunity. He manages to do it but is suspected by most of the Whites as being a spy.

Meanwhile Dasha and Telegin have parted in sorrow and he has joined up the Reds more out of something to do than political conviction. Because his heart is numb he is given special missions that he brings off successfully. But he still dreams of Dasha and wants her love to return.

In passages that are reminiscent of War & Peace there is a deal of historical detail that is put in to put the civil war in context. Then using a character that has headed home from the hospital to his village the Germans are introduced. As they sweep into the Ukraine and the Don it is an opportunity for the landed gentry to rise up and try to rip down Bolshevik changes.

Everywhere hatred is being planted and grown in the hearts of men and no one can be trusted. As the Reds and the Whites come closer together both are lead by leaders with torn loyalties and mixed ideas about why they are fighting.

This is occasionally plodding because of the style. Which builds up each different strand of the narrative in consecutive order until there is some sort of climax. It also reminds you of other epic novels set against war and civil war including War & Peace but also Quiet Flows the Don and in terms of the emotional turmoil there is some of Dr Zhivago echoing here.

More to come…

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