The Russian Tapestry

Written by Banafsheh Serov
Review by Marina Maxwell

Marie Kulbas belongs to a family that is enlightened enough to allow her to study law, but like all young women from the privileged class, she also goes to balls and the ballet in St Petersburg and dreams of a happy future.

The advent of war in 1914 changes everything. Marie’s brother Nikolai and her fiancé, Pyotr, march off with the expectation all will be over within weeks, but the incompetent Russian generals underestimate German strength and are ultimately held responsible for the shocking deaths of thousands of ill-equipped soldiers from starvation and worse. This ignites the fuse that culminates in the fall of the Tsar and the Russian Revolution.

The lightweight opening of this novel is deceptive, as it soon gets down to the grim realities of battles, prison camps, bread queues and personal tragedies. Through the eyes of the various characters including soldiers, peasants, revolutionaries, and even the Tsar himself, we gain the “tapestry” view of these momentous events.

Marie volunteers for Empress Alexandra’s nursing service. Pyotr, Nikolai and others like them struggle with the military disasters and increasing brutality. And Marie’s heart is torn between loyalty to the missing Pyotr and her growing fascination with the married Alexei Serov, who has his own personal demons to face.

Numerous novels have been written about World War I on the Western front, so it is enlightening to read how events unfolded on the Eastern front in Russia and Estonia and how they contributed to the ensuing civil war. Banafsheh Serov’s first historical novel is loosely based on her own family’s experiences. Contrivances and romantic licence are to be expected, but the research and background feel authentic. This lavish and enthralling tale has been crafted with much care and sensitivity and deserves a wide audience.