Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The People's Act Of Love

Siberia. The name conjures up images of harsh landscapes and even harsher punishments. Will I ever open a book set in Siberia and find myself in the middle of a feel good novel? Yikes. I hope not.

The People's Act Of Love by James Meek is set in a Siberian village and believe me there isn’t even a whiff of feel good anywhere in this book. It’s the last dark days of the Russian Revolution. The hard times have left their mark all over the place. Among the population of this hellish village of Yazyk are: Anna a passionate, widowed single mother, a group of stranded Czech soldiers with a cocaine addicted Captain, a separatist Christian sect obsessed with purity, a creepy local shaman and--bonus-- the Red Army is approaching. Prior to the soldiers showing up the classic Mysterious Stranger appears. We have all read enough to know that when an outsider arrives they bring ill tidings and so it is with this novel as well.

The new guy in town is Samarin. He is a charming revolutionary who immediately starts spouting stories of his traumatic escape from a distant labor camp that include being chased by a cannibal. He also has ideas to share. The kinds of ideas that authorities don’t like, ideas that make people take sides, ideas that manipulate. Suddenly where there was watchful ignoring between the citizens in Yazyk there is now violent division. The revolution, in microcosm, has arrived.

Forever it seems authors have brought together strangers and desperate characters in isolated locations: country mansions, air plane crashes, war zones, pioneer settlements, space stations, 20,000 leagues under the sea, etc in order to create a laboratory of humanity. Despite using this hairy old conceit (not to mention the use of the Mysterious Stranger) Meek has made his dark novel original and intriguing. This is no casual reading experience. The tight plotting, complex relationships, reactions, audacious and grotesque action sequences all bubble up into a fantastic psychological stew worthy of grown-ups. The People’s Act Of Love an amazing novel but I have to say—not for the faint of heart.

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