Written by Guzel Yakhina
Review by Marilyn Sherlock

Soviet Russia in 1930. The gradual accession of Stalin to power in the 1920s eventually ended the liberalization of society and the economy, leading instead to a period of unprecedented government control, mobilization, and terrorization of society in Russia and the other Soviet republics. In the 1930s, agriculture and industry underwent brutal forced centralization, and Russian cultural activity was highly restricted. Purges eliminated thousands of individuals deemed dangerous to the Soviet state by Stalin’s operatives. This book covers this period.  Zuleikha is a Russian peasant girl living in a small community with her husband and mother-in-law when the military arrive, kill her husband, and take her and other local inhabitants to Kazan, the capital of the area.  She is then forced to board a train bound for Siberia. In her story, we meet some of the people she travels with and live, with her, the deprivations she encounters.  Life is grim.

This is what I term a serious book.  It won the Yasnaya Polyana Award, was shortlisted for the Russian Booker Prize and also won the Russia Big Book Award, and I can see why. This edition is translated from the original Russian text; beautifully done, the characters walk off the pages, and the descriptions of the time are graphic.  It is a book that students of this period in Russian history will love, as it leaves very little to the imagination, but it was far too dark for me.  I found it interesting but did not really enjoy reading it.