Wednesday, March 01, 2017

My Reading Life: Russka (Rutherfurd)

I picked this one during my Fall Reading Challenge 2016-17, and after on-and-off reading over 18 weeks, I've finished. The 760 pages are not difficult though text-dense, and skimming would just almost desecrate the text and dishonor its author. After I got to about 350 pages, I had to take a break; Rutherfurd's books are long and slow-going (not in a negative way, though), primarily because the scope is so broad (this one covers 1800 years). Plus, Rutherfurd has that gifted ability of description to transport the reader right into the midst of the story. Sometimes he'll regress into his description of a character or a place, giving the reader a store of background information, and this description can go on for several pages before he brings you back. In so doing, you have a much deeper understanding and bigger picture he intends to impart.

These books are not literal page-turners for me because I do not fly through books. These are books to savor. I’ll read a chunk and stop at a natural point in the story, usually at the end of one of the long chapters, lay it aside to read something else, then pick it back up again. Russka is so long and dense and covers so many years with so many people that it is easier to dip in and out with it. The map and the family tree at the beginning are invaluable. So if you read this or any of his others, don't overlook the family tree especially.

A few quotes I marked that I particularly liked, either for what it said or how it was said:

      But, she smiled, it seems to me he has a warm heart.

     Guilt makes a proud man dangerous.

     It was early in the morning, three days after he arrived there, that Ivanushka came out of the fort soon after the sun had risen above the trees, and sat on a bare stone gazing across the landscape to the south.
     How silent it was. The sky above was pale blue, so crystalline that one might, it seemed to Ivanushka, have soared unimpeded into the clear air and touched the edge of heaven. The snowy landscape extended as far as the eye could see, the darker lines of the trees stretching until they seemed to become one with the snow of the endless steppe beyond.
     The edges of the river had recently begun to melt. Everything was melting. Only a little at a time, softly, so that you could scarcely hear it; yet inexorably. The more one listened, the more one became aware of the faint popping, the whispering of the whole countryside melting.
     And as the sun acted upon the snow and ice, so, Ivanushka could almost feel, were underground forces similarly at work. The whole gigantic continent -- the world itself as far as he knew -- was softly melting, snow, earth and air, an eternal process caught, for a moment, in this shining stasis.
     And everything, it suddenly appeared to Ivanushka, everything was necessary. The rich black earth -- so rich that the peasants scarcely needed to plow it; the fortress with its stout wooden walls; the subterranean world where the monks like Father Luke had chosen to live, and certainly to die:  why it should be so was beyond him, but it was all necessary. And so, I see, was the winding path of my own confused life, he thought. That, too, was necessary. Father Luke had perhaps seen it all, years ago, when he had said that each moral finds his own way to God.
     How soft the world was, how shining. How he loved, not only his wife, but all things. Even myself, unworthy that I am -- I can even loved myself -- because I, too, am part of this Creation, he pondered; this being, he perceived, his Epiphany.

     From dawn each day the boats traveled, until their shadows grew so long that they joined each vessel with the one behind so that, instead of resembling a procession of dark swans in the distance, they seemed to turn into snakes, inching forward on waters turned to fire by the western sunset ahead. While on the bank, the last red light from the huge sky eerily caught the stands of bare larch and birch so that it appeared as if whole armies with massed lances were waiting by the riverbank to greet them.

     The answer to Russia's problems lies here, in Russia. . . . The church is the key. If Russia's guiding force is not religion, then her people will be listless. We can have Western laws, independent judges, perhaps even parliaments -- but only if they grow gradually out of a spiritual renewal. That has to come first.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Oh Rutherford is such a colorful writer, I loved Saurum, having been to Stonehenge a numbeer of times. From Rutherfords Russka, it is only a short move to Michener and Poland. But you are right, Rutherford needs to be taken slowly, savoured, sometimes i need a break with a mind bubblegum book, but Rutherford satisfies my soul and enlightens it.