Books I read this week: March week 2

It looks like I read almost nothing this week, but I’ve just been very dilettantish about my reading. After I finished the only book I actually finished this week, I bounced around through about 5 others, finishing none of them. Ah well, it happens.

The Secret History of Moscow by Ekaterina Sedia is the book I finished. As the title would suggest, it’s set in Moscow. A young schizophrenic woman is caught quite by surprise when her younger sister turns into a bird moments after giving birth and flies out the window. As she searches for her sister, her path crosses that of a detective who is investigating other missing persons, as well as that of a painter who can also see the flocks of mysterious birds that have begun appearing around the city. The painter is the one who leads them to an underground Moscow- literally under the ground, and figuratively, as the residents were all only able to reach the city by needing desperately to escape situations above ground.  The city is also occupied by other types of refugees- fairy tale and folklore creatures who have been run out of public belief through the modernization of Russia.

There are similarities in theme with Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, which is one of my favorite books and which does an incredible job of examining belief and what we worship. It also does an incredible job of capturing the spirit of America, the intersection of “old gods” that immigrants brought from their own countries that stay the same or transform to adapt to a new locale and culture and the “American gods” that tie into the American dream and the unique elements of the American culture.

The Secret History of Moscow taps into some of these ideas, and when it does, it does it well. The story that is there is great, I really enjoyed it. I only wished that there was more. American Gods is definitely bigger in scope- some of the biggest gods are smack in the center of the action, which makes the action big. The Secret History of Moscow is a smaller story. The gods are smaller gods – not because there aren’t big gods in Russia, but because all of the big gods are gone by the time of this story, which is a shame. (In reality, I suppose, as much as in this book.) The book could have benefited by being longer; I don’t know a ton about Russian folktales/mythology, and I’m guessing a lot of other people don’t either. The moments where the story digressed to delve into a character’s history were really well done, and there could have been more of them. The premise that the author creates is fascinating, and I would have loved to see it reach farther. But what is there is excellent, and I highly enjoyed it. I can’t really blame it for not being the book I wanted, when what it is is perfectly good.

As I said, I’ve been bouncing around from book to book since then. The only one I’ve been consistently reading is Collected Poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay. I also broke my resolution for this book, but it’s for research purposes, so I’m loopholing it. It’s also more than 800 pages, so I’ll be at it a while.  Her poetry is amazing- I don’t run to poetry as a rule, but I really like hers. Here’s a snippet if you’ve never read any of hers:

Few indeed! When I can make

Of ten small words a rope to hang the world!

“I had you and I have you now no more.”

There, there it dangles,- where’s the little truth

That can for long keep footing under that

When its slack syllables tighten to a thought?

Here, let me write it doen! I wish to see

Just how a thing like that will look on paper!

“I had you and have you now no more.”

O little words, how can you run so straight

Across the page, beneath the weight you bear?

That’s from the middle of a much longer poem called Interim.  She has another, titled The Suicide, that is just gutting.

Up next is a reread of The Translator by Nina Schuyler for book club. I’m excited to read it again, it was one of my favorite books of last year.

What are you reading?

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