Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Secret History of Moscow

This book made me sad. It was a good story, sort of a Neil Gaiman type of magical things happening in a large city. The story made me want to read more about Russian folklore and the history of that country. I've often thought I wanted to know more about Russia because so much of the information we have in the US tends to boil down to a few stereotypes: cold, stoic, vodka, melancholy, old communists, new mafia, blond, ballet, Siberia. This book had lot of those things in it, but from a Russian perspective.
Living in the desert, I hate the cold, but the acceptance, and beauty found in the ice and snow was different, if necessary when you live in a climate like Moscow's. The saddest things in the book was the lack of belief or hope in the characters. Even the mythical characters who have been banished to an underground hideaway have no hope for the future. They just exist, glad to have somewhere relatively safe, but not willing to question or wonder.
The humans who find themselves in this place are also grateful for the sanctuary, but equally lacking in hope and meaning. The amazement as they find childhood stories is good, but to an American that amazement would turn to wonder, joy, or other mostly positive emotions. Here we find them lacking the hope to find joy. Since everything is so messed up on the surface, everything will get that way down below.
I kept running into passages that highlighted how important meaning, more than just existence, is to the human soul. And how so many in Russia have lost any sense of meaning further than their own bodily wants.
Most of the time I don't realize how different I, and any other person with faith, is to those who have lost it. To be happy and mentally healthy I think you need to believe in something more than yourself. Whether that be your family, God, the common good, or whatever. When the State or something else takes that hope away, there isn't much left to keep you going. All of the people in the novel end up in the underworld because they had hit the point where they had nothing left in the surface world to keep them there, so the chance to maybe go somewhere else was worth taking.
The hope, the incentive to get up and try to make the new day a little bit better than the day before, is something I tend to take for granted. I need to be a bit more aware and grateful for that.

The Secret History of Moscow. Ekaterina Sedia. Prime Books. 2007

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