Mar. 15th, 2017

annwfyn: (studious - reading books)
I had an odd experience yesterday while reading on the plane. I picked up a copy of a book I'd read and loved as a teen - the House by the Dvina by Eugenie Frasier - the story of her childhood in Russia just before the Revolution.

I remembered it as being a bit like Agatha Christie or Gwen Raverat' s memoires - you know - lots of adorable stories about eccentric relatives and rocking horses. And I thought it would be a comfy airport read.

My reading journey went something like this...

...oh. She's a bit bitter about the Bolsheviks, isn't she?

...yeah, she's definitely in favour of the old regime. Makes sense, as her family were pretty aristocratic in Russia. Except for great-grandmother who was a serf.

...so, World War One went badly. I knew that. Also, goddamn Britain treated Russia badly.

...wow. She used the word 'insolent' to describe how some revolutionary spoke to her mother. Check your privilege, Eugenie!

...um. And then the revolutionary arrested her elderly grandfather for no reason and sent men to ransack their family home every couple of days for months.

...oh. And the local Bolsheviks would randomly confiscate anyone's stuff they wanted. I guess it is a revolution and Eugenie's family had been very well off before.

...and they raped and murdered people who objected. Whole families died. That's...

...ok. Now she's telling the tale of a mass execution she and her friends witnessed while playing in the woods as children, and how one of the people executed was a teenage boy in his school uniform.

...and how this same group of friends once chased a stray goat down so they could take turns trying to milk it because they were starving due to civil war. This is one of the upbeat comic interludes in the civil war section of the book.

...phew. She, and her mother and brother managed to escape as refugees, because her mother was Scottish and they were able to get exit papers on that basis. Now, I wonder what happens to the rest of her wonderful, loveable, larger than life family and friends that she's been describing this whole book.

...they are all murdered. Well, some die of starvation. A few more a murdered by Nazis and not communists. And two commit suicide to avoid being executed. One disappears. Probably executed. And the rest are all murdered. Every single one. Mostly under Stalin.

And I sort of sat there in horror. Yeah, too right she is bitter about the Russian Revolution. And what's worse is that I hadn't expected it. I mean, I kind of knew Stalin was bad and the Russian Civil War was awful. I've seen death stats. I did know. Yet it hadn't properly connected. For Chrissakes, as a teenager I had a hammer and sickle badge on a jacket (I thought it was cool). In my twenties I role played cool Russian revolutionaries in LRP where I never would have thought of playing a Nazi. I laughed at "how retro" when I saw protestors with the hammer and sickle outside the American Embassy in London when I'd never have done that over a swastika.

No real moral lesson. Just a weird sense that somehow we as a society aren't great. Probably because we don't believe in evil without atrocity photos and case studies.

By the way, it's a good book.

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annwfyn

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