Chimes of a Lost Cathedral (Revolution of Marina M.)

Written by Janet Fitch
Review by Kristen Hannum

At midnight, at the end of this epic 750-page novel that reads with echoes of Pasternak and Tolstoy, I wanted more. That’s going to be possible, because Chimes of a Lost Cathedral is the second half of Marina Makarova’s story, which began with an 816-page novel, The Revolution of Marina M.

Author Janet Fitch is so skillful a writer that most readers can safely read this book without reading The Revolution first. It is complete in itself. Just in case, there’s a list of characters with brief biographies at the book’s start, along with maps showing the cities and the furthest advances of counter-revolutionary forces across Russia; and a map of St. Petersburg.

This gripping, fast-moving story has the cadences of poetry. I immediately cared about the pregnant young Marina as she made her way back to St. Petersburg from the mid-reaches of Russia in 1919, with war and privation everywhere she turned. One section of this book was so wrenching that I had to close it, but Marina’s appeal pulled me back, her courage, poetry and her love of the grand world whirling around her. She is so intelligent and yet impetuous, in a world that has tumbled into chaos. Her understandable if sometimes incautious decisions bring her tragedy, but she is a survivor, and her fortitude is cheering. Several of the era’s historic figures—Maxim Gorky, H.G. Wells, Emma Goldberg—are among the novel’s characters, because Marina is a talented poet. She sometimes quotes her own poetry and that of her heroes, lesser-known Russian poets of the era, in ways that all but the most confirmed hater of poetry will fall in love with. The poetry here isn’t pretentious or precious, it rather thrums with sorrow and joy, and walks together with the narrative. Recommended.