Monday, August 12, 2019

Chimes of a Lost Cathedral by Janet Fitch continues Marina M's story during the Russian Civil War

Fitch’s transporting sequel to The Revolution of Marina M. (2017) is even better than the first book. Ceaselessly entertaining through its lengthy page count, it presents a disillusioned, more mature Marina Makarova as she is broken and remade alongside Russia during its civil war.

As the novel opens, 19-year-old Marina, pregnant with her lover’s child, has just escaped from a cult on her family’s former estate. Her journeys take her deep into the Russian countryside and back to her devastated home city. In this full-blooded feminine epic, Marina narrates her dramatic life with striking visual detail, whether she’s riding aboard the agit-train Red October, preparing for the White Army’s advance on Petrograd, or teaching poetry to downtrodden shoe-factory women desperate for a glimpse of beauty.

Enduring near-starvation and terrible poverty and loss, Marina forms strong connections with peasants and the artistic intelligentsia alike, but can’t manage to leave her past behind. “The revolution’s not an event, Marina. It’s a creature,” Maxim Gorky tells her, and Fitch shows her protagonist’s inner turmoil as she and Russian workers awaken to the revolution’s political reality, which is far from what they’d hoped.

Awash with emotion and poetic imagery that aptly reflect Marina’s changing circumstances, Fitch’s tale channels Marina's vibrant spirit throughout. Historical fiction fans should devour this.

Chimes of a Lost Cathedral was published by Little, Brown in July. It's nearly 800 pages but moves fast. I wrote this starred review for the June issue of Booklist. I'd also reviewed the first book in the series back in 2017; together, they make over 1700 pages of epic storytelling, and Marina tells her story in a single narrative thread throughout. For readers who bemoan the idea that authors aren't writing on this type of epic scale anymore: check these two books out!

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