The Odessans by Irina Ratushinskaya

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The Odessans by Irina Ratushinskaya

Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: Covering the pogroms, the Russian Revolution and the aftermath, this is a fascinating Russian family saga from an expert story teller.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 416 Date: August 2016
Publisher: Sceptre
ISBN: 978-1473637269

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The Petrovs, Geibers and Teselenkos may all live as friends in the Ukrainian town of Odessa, but this is the dawn of the 20th century: changes are afoot that will test their friendship as well as their existence. Be they Russian establishment, Russian Jews or Polish, each family will see tragedy alongside the birth pangs of a future Soviet state, not to mention the struggle for survival that will be more successful for some of them than for others.

Irina Ratushinskaya is a Russian dissident poet who was imprisoned for questioning the Soviet regime and fighting for human rights. Now, by writing a novel based around her home town, she shows that she has more than just a talent for poetry. This panoramic sweep of a Russian family saga is accessible and absorbing – a much easier read than we'd think Russian literature could be.

In some ways, though, there are still stylistic links between The Odessans and the greats of Russia's literary past. For instance, in common with Tolstoy Irina has a wide cast and yet she condenses them into one volume a lot shorter than War and Peace so we have little problem in remembering them all. They're also a very carefully selected cast, showing early 20th century Russia off at its best and worst.

The Petrovs have service to the Tsar in their genes so where will their loyalties lie as their foundations shift? The partially-Polish Tselenkos and Jewish Geibers have more to worry about in a nation that will soon be riddled with a paranoia towards outsiders. (I'll leave you to make the connections with the modern world.)

The Geibers are the first to feel the shift as the anti-Semitic pogroms have been a shadow on their history for a while. Irina graphically communicates the fear and monstrosity. This is never more so than in the episode in which little Yakov Geiber faces confusion as well as pain when those he has thought of as honorary aunts and uncles show another side.

As we travel through time and episodes we realise that the Irina we've come to know via her autobiographies In the Beginning and Grey is the Colour of Hope is present in all her Odessans' characters. No one is bland, each being as spirited as she is from the outset or, as in the case of Zina Petrov, developing spirit along the way.

Be it in peace, conflict or love, in these pages we learn a lot about the problems of a nation through the problems of its families. We may smile with cynicism at the ironically named Committee for Re-Establishing Order then a moment like Anna Teselenko's projected reaction to the hedgehogs can evoke a tear or two. As for sunburn healing acne… Indeed there's a favourite sub-plot and lightbulb moment for everyone along with literary memories that animate a cast list and an era.

(Thank you Sceptre for providing us with a copy for review.)

Further Reading: Irina herself is an inspirational person who has been through a lot so we'd definitely recommend the two autobiographies: In the Beginning and Grey is the Colour of Hope. If you'd prefer more fiction about the tougher times in Russian history, we just as highly recommend One Night in Winter by Simon Sebag Montefiore about the post-Second-World-War Stalin regime. Meanwhile if it's on your bucket list still untouched, do try [[War and Peace. You may be pleasantly surprised!

Buy The Odessans by Irina Ratushinskaya at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Odessans by Irina Ratushinskaya at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Odessans by Irina Ratushinskaya at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Odessans by Irina Ratushinskaya at Amazon.com.


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