Summary and book reviews of White Blood by James Fleming

White Blood

By James Fleming

White Blood

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Book Summary

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.

One

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 he’d 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 Tsar’s 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 I’ve had no control. I must add a physical description of myself.  

I can’t 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 I’ve had of my person. Some initial helplessness, suckling, infancy, ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

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).

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Media Reviews
The Spectator (UK)

White Blood is more than this, but it is first of all a meticulously researched act of reconstruction.... The narrative, the dialogue and the intensity of Doig's emotions drive the story to a savage climax that reads like a modern thriller. It is the best sort of historical novel.

The Independent (UK)

A historical novel with the right kind of hero: virile, ruthless, adventurous.... The description of the estate and its inhabitants, the nearby village and the distant rumours of war and revolution are all superbly handled.

Booklist - Joanne Wilkinson

Fleming crafts his richly told novel in three parts, moving from the wildly entertaining travelogue that opens the tale to the cat-and-mouse game among the snowbound to an out-and-out thriller as Charlie witnesses firsthand the horror of Bolsheviks "forging a new kind of hell.

Kirkus

Fleming is indeed skilled, and the book is a pulse-pounding read. But, like Charlie's innumerable paramours, you may hate yourself in the morning for having enjoyed it so much.

Publisher's Weekly

Starred Review. In the book's wintry denouement, Charlie's narration pulls slowly back on events—the revolution's settling of scores and literal severing of ties with the czarists—and then freezes. It's funny, sad and magical.

The Literary Review

An extraordinary novel.... Readers will surely welcome its author to the ranks of our greatest living story-tellers.

Publishing News - Sue Baker

I'm grateful to Fleming for reminding me just how exciting a good novel can be.

Reader Reviews
Kim

Excellent novel of the Russian Revolution
There are many things about White Blood that make it a remarkable novel. Fleming focuses on how Russia’s upper middle class were affected by the Revolution, as opposed to writing his novel from the point of view of the revolutionaries, which I found...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

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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