Monday, April 28, 2008

Book Review: The Secret History of Moscow by Ekaterina Sedia

Every Monday, I'll be doing spoiler-free, bite-sized book reviews.

Much praise has been attached to The Secret History of Moscow and I can understand why. Sedia weaves an enchanting story drawing from both Russian mythology and history. I'm not really familiar with Russian myth (or history for that matter) but I don't think that really hindered me from appreciating this novel. I expect more educated readers will appreciate all the allusions Sedia includes in the book. However, the real strength of The Secret History of Moscow is Sedia's writing and how closely she pays attention to characterization. This novel has a huge cast and in nearly every chapter, Sedia devotes time to flesh out the histories and personalities of various characters, whether they're the heroes of the story or merely victims of events. However, don't let that statement make you believe that this is some big epic with endless characters and perpetually shifting perspectives. Rather, the author sticks to three protagonists and expands from there. Sedia's characters are complex, tragic in many ways but at the same time drawing in the reader, keeping us hooked. The author's language is more than competent, easy to get into and lyrical at times. If you're looking for a tour of Moscow, Sedia accomplishes that not by excess physical descriptions of locales but rather by capturing its atmosphere, its bleakness, and the characters who live in such a place. Overall this is a highly recommended read irregardless of whether you're familiar with Russian lore or not. Sedia's writing is not only entrancing but is infused with a distinct Russian voice that's comfortable to immerse one's self in.

Rating: 3.5/5.

Rating System:

1 - There are better ways to spend your time.
2 - Ho hum books, usually typical of its genre. Probably only recommendable to die-hard fans.
3 - A cut above the rest, usually with one or more elements that sets it apart from the norm.
4 - Highly recommended and is easily a pioneer of the genre.
5 - A classic or it will be.

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