Devil’s Midnight

Written by Yuri Kapralov
Review by Ellen Keith

Set between 1919 and 1920 in the last months of the Russian Civil War, Devil’s Midnight follows three figures: Alexey Lebedev, a tutor turned soldier (against his will) in the Red Army; Yuri Skatchko, a colonel in the White Army; and Nata Tai, a beautiful, mad actress with her own agenda. For all that Russia is so large, these three encounter each other over and over again, in Kiev, Odessa, Sumy, etc., straining all credibility. Nata is alternately in love with Yuri and Alexey or in love with her own plan of vengeance for her father’s death. Yuri is in love with both Nata and Alexey’s sister Lucy, and Alexey is in love with Nata while remaining a cipher. Characters are not the author’s strong suit–all three failed to come to life.

Kapralov successfully conveys the sense of chaos of the war, jumping from place to place with varying wins and losses of the White Army. His sympathy, or at least his point of view, lies with the Whites, with only a brief chapter from the point of view of Trotsky, of course portrayed as a madman. But no one fares very well in this book, as apparently all Russians were fueled by alcohol, cocaine, and morphine during the war; I wondered why no one had overdosed yet on all the drugs and still managed to walk, talk, and fight. There is a subplot involving Satanists that did not involve me. If it was Kapralov’s intent to show that anarchy ruled during the war, he succeeded, but failed on all other counts.