The People's Act of Love

The People's Act of Love

3.7 4
by James Meek

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"In a remote Siberian village, amid a lawless, unforgiving landscape, lives Anna Petrovna, a beautiful, willfully self-reliant widowed mother. A mystical, separatist Christian sect, a stranded regiment of restless Czech soldiers, and an eerie local shaman live nearby, all struggling against the elements and great social upheaval to maintain a fragile coexistence."… See more details below


"In a remote Siberian village, amid a lawless, unforgiving landscape, lives Anna Petrovna, a beautiful, willfully self-reliant widowed mother. A mystical, separatist Christian sect, a stranded regiment of restless Czech soldiers, and an eerie local shaman live nearby, all struggling against the elements and great social upheaval to maintain a fragile coexistence." "Out of the woods trudges Samarin, an escapee from Russia's northernmost prison camp, with a terrifyingly outlandish story to tell about his journey. Immediately apprehended, he is brought before the Czech regiment's megalomaniac, Captain Matula. But the stranger's appearance has caught the attention of others, including Anna Petrovna's." This stranger, his bizarre story - if it is to be believed - and the apparent murder of the local shaman quickly become a flashpoint for this village: temperatures rise, alliances shift, and betrayals emerge.

Editorial Reviews

Michael Dirda
Meek has created a tremendously impressive work of art, at once serious, upsetting and astonishingly moving. I'm sorry that I can't forthrightly discuss some of his carefully timed revelations, and so -- in two senses -- can't say enough about his book. It contains wonderfully tender passages -- a young couple's honeymoon, a criminal sweetly joshing a little boy -- and others of a primitive grisliness. Above all, it reminds us that true believers, in anything, nearly always end up sacrificing their humanity for abstractions.
— The Washington Post
Boris Fishman
… this ingenious, intricate novel, a meditation on grand ideas that is also a suspenseful page turner, avoids that too-easy wonder Russia often inspires in its admirers. At the end of the book, Mutz leaves for Prague, taking his beliefs with him. Russia, for its part, continues doing what it does best: Consuming its own.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Set during the waning days of the Russian revolution, Meek's utterly absorbing novel (after The Museum of Doubt) captivates with its depiction of human nature in all its wartime extremes. In 1919, the remote Siberian town of Yazyk contains a strange brew of humanity: the docile members of a mystical Christian sect, whose longing for purity drives them to self-mutilation; a small outfit of Czech troops, marooned by the civil war and led by the mad cocaine-snorting Captain Matula; and "the widow" Anna Petrovna, whose passion for worldly things (e.g., photography and men) isolates her from the devout townspeople. When the charismatic revolutionary, Samarin, trudges into town with a harrowing tale of escape from a distant labor camp and a dangerous philosophy, Yazyk becomes a theater of bloodshed and betrayal as well as heroism and compassion. Using the town as a microcosm of the larger war, Meek illuminates both perverted ideology and irrepressible humanity. With confident prose, layered storytelling and prodigious imagination, he combines scenes of heart-pounding action and jaw-dropping revelations with moments of quiet tension and sly humor. This original, literary page-turner succeeds both with its credible psychological detail and in its grandeur and sweep. Six-city tour. (Jan.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Guardian journalist Meek (The Museum of Doubt) sets his fourth novel in the remote reaches of Siberia at the time of the Russian Revolution and ensuing civil war. At the lonely outpost of Yazyk, a group of Czech soldiers stranded in Russia at the end of World War I amid a sect of castrates are caught up in the machinations of their renegade leader, the approach of Red troops, and the predations of a lurking cannibal. Anna Petrovna, a well-bred Russian photographer, eventually becomes involved or embroiled with one of the Czech officers, the cannibal, and the leader of the castrate sect. There are so many good things about this novel that one wants to praise it to the skies: exotic setting, well-drawn characters, historical accuracy, intriguing plot. Yet for all the excitement-from castration to cannibalism-the narrative thrust often goes slack, freighted with such devices as a letter (20 book pages long) and a 30-page "story" which the author expects to carry us along. Instead of becoming the page-turner it might have been, the novel instead has an almost documentary feel, with touches of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky in the ruminations of the main characters. Recommended for larger fiction collections and Russian studies collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 9/15/05.]-Edward Cone, New York Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Religious fanaticism and impassioned political radicalism are the combustible conjoined themes of the globetrotting British journalist's third novel. Meek, who lived in Russia and the Ukraine during the 1990s, clearly knows his way around Siberia-where most of the story's actions occur. Its story proper begins when its antihero Samarin (whose orphaned boyhood and conflicted commitment to revolutionary principles are sketched in a prelude) is observed wandering in a Siberian forest just as a soldier and several panicked horses plunge to their deaths from a railway bridge-whereupon Samarin encounters Balashov, a former soldier in the civil war that followed the 1917 revolution, and now the leader of a cult based in the remote village of Yazyk. This hamlet is also temporary home to a Czech legion that had fought on the side of the (ruling class) Whites in that war, now stranded far from their comrades, and vulnerable to the approaching Red (revolutionary) Army. Numerous stories emerge, and complex relationships are established and endangered. Samarin, whose tales of political imprisonment and persecution are at best half-truths, stubbornly pursues his dream of a catastrophic cleansing revolution. Balashov and his followers seek purification through escape from the body's tyranny by way of voluntary castration. The wife Balashov has abandoned, Anna Petrovna, seeks solace in her passion for photography, her attraction to the smoldering, cryptic (indeed, Dostoevskian) Samarin and the chaste attentions of Jewish Czech soldier Mutz, whose quietly conveyed decency confronts the cocaine-fuelled fury of his increasingly deranged superior officer Matula. Meek throws them all together in impressivelydramatic "big" scenes whose power is ever-so-slightly vitiated by contrived explications of the paradox indicated by his superb title: the destructiveness latent in visionary all-or-nothing reversals of social order and "normal" human impulses. A provocative, skillfully plotted, emotionally engaging fiction-and a giant step forward for the gifted Meek. First printing of 75,000; $75,000 ad/promo
From the Publisher
“The heft and passion of classic Russian literature . . . Anna Karenina set to the rollicking pace of a modern-day thriller. Epic yet heartbreakingly intimate . . It feels like a revolution.” —Andrea Simakis, Plain Dealer (Cleveland)

Doctor ZhivagoAnna Karenina…Lermontov’s A Hero of Our TimeThe People’s Act of Love will remind you of all these books….Magnificent…heart-pounding.” –The Washington Post Book World

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