The son of an English father and a Russian mother, Charlie Doig is a big man -- big in stature and big in spirit. A naturalist, he roughs it around the world collecting birds and insects for museums. In 1914 he is on a mission for the Academy of Sciences in Russian Turkestan when war breaks out. His pay is stopped and his companion goes off to enlist. Doig, however, has no intention of volunteering to be killed. He returns to the Pink House, his family's home near Smolensk, and to the woman he loves, his cousin Elizaveta.
At first the Pink House remains almost untouched by outside events, and the familiar ways continue as before. But imperial Russia is doomed and with it all the old certainties. Trapped by the snow with Doig and Elizaveta are a motley collection of old aristocrats, their servants and hangers-on -- and two soldiers who have sought refuge with them, one of whom, Doig fears, is a Bolshevik out to destroy them all.
Beautifully written, richly imagined, by turns savage and tender, this exhilarating novel confirms James Fleming as one of the very best novelists at work today.
My father, George Doig, died of the plague. That was
in 1903, when I was fourteen and he in the flower of his
age. For many years hed been the manager of their Moscow
office for Hodge & Co., the big cotton-brokers. During this
period he made himself attractive to Irina Rykov, and married
her. She was the granddaughter of the Rykov who raised the
loan that kept the Tsars army going in 1812. In this way I was
a direct descendant of the man who saved Russia from Napoleon.
Until recently, these were the principal facts in my life over which Ive had no control. I must add a physical description of myself.
I cant remember having been small. Nanny Agafya sometimes sought to dominate me by saying that Mother had spat me out. Five heaves and there you were, all slimy and bawling, no bigger than a gherkin. This has never been the sense Ive had of my person. Some initial helplessness, suckling, infancy, ...
Fleming explores the clash between tradition and progress, class and culture, in White Blood, a gritty novel, intensely flavored with both the elegance and terror of Russia on the brink of civil war; that lures the reader in with an almost lighthearted opening travelogue but that inexorably gathers steam, drawing to a thrilling, emotionally exhausting conclusion.
(Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).
Full Review (1165 words).
James Fleming was born in London in 1944, the fourth in a family of nine children. His education began with a governess, Miss Malins, who "wielded power via a thick, blue oval crayon that would be jabbed into our ribs if ever we faltered." At the age of eight he was sent to boarding school at Abberley Hall. He got into Oxford "by a whisker" and gained a second in Modern History. On graduation, he became an articled clerk (trainee accountant) and went to work with Angus & Robertson, an ...
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