Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Rasputin's Daughter

It's a truth universally acknowledged that I am a big Russia fan right? So when I heard from NPR that there was a book coming out that was a historical fiction piece told from the point of view of Rasputin's daughter Masha, I had to read it.

This book is told after Rasputin is killed (by poisoning, stabbing, AND drowning) when Masha and her sister are sent to live with the Tsar and his family. This is when the Russian Revolution is happening and the Romanovs are sequestered in one of their palaces basically waiting for a way to flee the country, or for their deaths.

Masha spends the majority of her time with the tsaravich (or crown prince), Alexei. Alexei was a hemophiliac and the tsarina (his mother, Alexandra) basically went bat-shit crazy trying anything to heal her son. When Rasputin was alive this meant that she had him visiting the palace all of the time to try to heal Alexei. After Rasputin died, she had Masha take over.

Masha doesn't kid anyone and knows that she does not have the same mystical powers that she believes her father had. But she does tell Alexei stories to keep his mind from the fact that they will probably all be murdered. They tell tales of what he would do if he had never had hemophilia and she tells him the tales her father told her of his travels and revelations. As things become more and more dire for the Romanovs, Masha and Alexei become closer and closer emotionally and physically.

And then the inevitable happens.

The book is interesting and had me hanging on to what was happening, especially towards the end when things were hitting the fan for the Romanov family. I have this picture of Russian life in my head that is by no means acurate, and to read about the tsaravich day dreaming about Buffalo Bill Cody and Rasputin driving a car just kind of boggles my mind. I also had no idea that Masha went on to be a circus act!

If you are looking for something that feels Russian without the denseness of a classic piece of Russian Lit, I would suggest this book, but it isn't a favorite of mine. My biggest complaint is that the narrator seemed too detached from what was happening around her, especially with Alexei. I wanted more from her. Things were too loose and I am not sure what the Masha of the book took away from her life experience. A bit of a let down, but still interesting.

Monday, July 16, 2012

No thanks

I've been reading a lot of books on how to live more in tune with the earth and how to escape consumerism and saw this book at the library. The thought of living in a 12 by 12 house off the grid seemed just what I wanted to read and I picked it up and dove right in.

Talk abut a major let down. First of all, this guy Powers doesn't live in a 12 by 12 house, he just stays at one  for what seems like a couple of months. The house is owned by a lady who is a doctor yet chooses to take an extremely low salary to avoid taxes going to war and lives in this house full time. I would have loved to read about book about her. Powers doesn't have to worry about any income during this time and never satisfactorily addresses this point to me. Part of getting "beyond the american dream" seems to me to be getting past the debt and obligations that most Americans have accumulated.

I really liked the first few chapters of this book in spite of this, but then I started to really, really dislike Powers' writing style and frankly him. His choice of anecdotes about rural North Carolina seem only to encourage the racism that he claims to be against. He goes on about how much good he does in the world for people (while plugging his other books far too often) and yet doesn't seem to help those around him. His neighbor Jose makes beautiful furniture but is struggling to make ends met and Powers can't buy something as a gift for his mom? He clearly isn't hurting too bad if he can just up and not work for half a year.

While I certainly can stomach new age hippisms, Powers conversations with the gal he is in a "relationship" with made me roll my eyes constantly. He starts their conversations with questions like "What is sin?" or "What is the shape of the world?" and it just seems so pretentious. Then when he leaves the 12 by 12, despite jerking this girl around for half a year he leaves:

"And hour passed with Leah, in silence. We watched the creek's flow, and I knew that there's no greater gift to the world and to others than being true to your deepest self. So many times, out of fear of loneliness or other negative emotions, we form relationships that are good enough, but untrue to our uniqueness. Doing so risks flattening ourselves."

I'm pretty sure if a dude wrote that about me I would track him down and punch him.

And then, three-quarters of the way through the book, he reveals that he has a daughter in another country. Powers goes on and on from this point about how much he loves her and hurts at the distance between them BUT CHOOSES TO LIVE IN ANOTHER COUNTRY. No mention of how he is paying child support during his time at the 12 by 12.

All in all this guy sounds like a pretentious douche. The idea of this book was so interesting to me, but it did not come anywhere near what I wanted to learn. Maybe he does do a lot of good in the world (he certainly talks about doing so) but it is hard to get past the fact that he does so without walking the walk.

This is a problem I have found with a lot of this environmental back to the land memoirs. There is some point in many of them that they just fall flat and do not connect with me. I keep reading them because I want to learn something about how I want to live my life and how to get out from what society tells me, but I have yet to find it.