The People’s Act of Love
The People’s Act of Love is set in the isolated village of Yazyk, Siberia, in 1919, where a company of Czech soldiers, stranded and on the losing side of the conflict, lives an uneasy coexistence with a Christian sect. Into this uneasy peace, young Samarin arrives. An escapee from prison, Samarin emerges from the woods near the village and meets Balashov, the leader of the sect. He tells Balashov that he must warn them of a fellow convict who’s following him. When pressed for details, he says the man took him for food when they escaped. “Perhaps it would be better if I turned back,” Samarin says. “Did you hear the story about the monk who arrived in a small town in Poland one time, rang the bell in the marketplace, gathered all the citizens and told them that he had come to warn them of a terrible plague which would soon afflict them? Somebody asked him who was carrying the plague. The monk said: ‘I am.’”
Samarin is not what he seems, and neither is Balashov nor the sect. This is an absolutely riveting novel. Cannibalism, murder, a Russian sect of castrates: it certainly doesn’t make for easy reading. Yet for all its brutality, there is a love story here, and the horror isn’t unrelenting; there are moments of humour and humanity in this tale of the acts that can lead to the disintegration of reason and civility. The People’s Act of Love has the feel of a Russian novel, but Meek has imbued it with his own distinct style; his prose is at times stark, at times fluid and gorgeous. He rewards the careful reader with a satisfying tale that is entirely engrossing and unforgettable. Highly recommended.