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Sunday, September 19, 2010

"The Winter Queen" Book Review

I once asked a Russian woman sitting next to me at the manicurist, "Do Russians ever do comedy?"

It was a serious question. I love foreign films, and I've seen several Russian films. The subject matter always seemed so dire. Her response was that what a Russian might find funny, an American might not. Her example was an old lady on a park bench, drunk out of her mind. Point taken.

I think I have a better understanding of Russian humor after reading "The Winter Queen" by Boris Akunin (pen name for author Grigory Chkhartishvili).

The humor that's woven into the story is subtle, wry, and provides more of gentle smile than a tee-hee. The kind of thing that makes you grin and nod and feel that you and the author are sharing a joke between friends.

Erast Petrovich Fanodrin is a young member of the Moscow Police force--clerk and civil servant  fourteenth class to be exact. When an odd suicide comes to his attention, he gets permission from his superior to look into the matter. It's a journey he might wish he had never begun, because it leads to committed idealists and the secret society of Azazel. It leads to heartache, betrayal and, ultimately, death.

Akunin weaves his story in a fluid language that envelopes the reader in 1800's Russia. We are compelled to root for Erast because of his innocence. His youth makes him prone to daydreams that both embarrass and please us as we recognize our younger, dramatic selves. For instance, faced with a plunge into the cold Thames at night, his arms and legs bound, he imagines what his friends and enemies might say after he meets his demise. He's incensed to find that his captors, unaware that he's freed himself and is hiding nearby, don't wax poetic about his valor in the face of death but rather discuss the cold weather and rheumatism!

The conclusion is shocking, though inevitable, and this reader can't wait to delve into the next in the series,  "The Turkish Gamit", to find out how Erast has grown from his experiences. There are currently five Erast Fandorin novels available. Akunin also writes the Sister Pelagia series.

Visit the author on his web site, or better still, read Erast's adventures and discover a character you'll want to spend time with.


  1. Jackie -
    Thank you for highlighting what sounds like a beautiful work from a Russian author.

    I delved into Russian writers quite passionately years ago and was awash with the beauty, fear, anger, love and pain that I found within the pages of authors such as Solzhenitsyn, whose "Cancer Ward" opened my eyes to a life no American can comprehend and Nabokov, whose Lolita became a phenomenon when it was banned in the US, wrote the most beautiful short stories. Many held a beautiful innocense, written in first person p.o.v of the young. Even in the eyes of their young, there seemed to be so little joy and laughter.

    Thank you for sharing your review, it has brought to mind many beautiful works and past reads... some that I would love to revisit.

  2. Having a publicist has put me far ahead of the game in terms of author recognition. Without Diana's help I would be working mostly in obscurity, and missing out on the most import aspct of a writers success--- exposure.