This is the latest in a series of occasional posts featuring books I read years ago about which I was wildly enthusiastic at the time, wanting to press a copy into as many hands as I could.
The People’s Act of Love is one of those rare things: a novel that came to me via H’s recommendation. He tends to read much more non-fiction than I do, relying on my suggestions for fiction apart from crime of which I’m not fond. In fact, I think I handed this on to him as something that seemed more up his street than mine. He raved about it so I had to read it then became a fervent convert. We weren’t the only ones – it was praised to the skies by critics who bravely compared it with the likes of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky.
In 1919 the remote Siberian town of Yazyk is home to an extreme Christian sect. Stationed nearby is the remnant of a Czech battalion and their mad captain, desperate to get home after losing the civil war. The arrival of the charismatic but slippery Samarin, recently escaped from a Russian gulag, together with the suspicious death of a local shaman throws Yazyk into a chaos of suspicion and terror, further complicated by a beautiful young woman of ambiguous status whose attention has been snared by Samarin.
There are a multitude of storylines running through Meek’s novel. Hard to do it justice in a few lines. I’m wary of the old ‘literary page-turner’ cliché but this really is gripping with several quite shocking revelations. Meek’s descriptive writing is extraordinarily vivid, summoning up the harshness of the frigid Siberian landscape. It’s about war, love, idealism, belief and the extremes that people will go to in pursuit of them. Perhaps I should listen to H more often.
What about you, any blasts from the past you’d like to share?