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Set in a time of great social upheaval, warfare, and terrorism, and against a stark, lawless Siberia at the end of the Russian Revolution, The People’s Act of Love portrays the fragile coexistence of a beautiful, independent mother raising her son alone, a megalomaniac Czech captain and his restless regiment, and a mystical separatist Christian sect. When a mysterious, cha Set in a time of great social upheaval, warfare, and terrorism, and against a stark, lawless Siberia at the end of the Russian Revolution, The People’s Act of Love portrays the fragile coexistence of a beautiful, independent mother raising her son alone, a megalomaniac Czech captain and his restless regiment, and a mystical separatist Christian sect. When a mysterious, charismatic stranger trudges into their snowy village with a frighteningly outlandish story to tell, its balance is shaken to the core.


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Set in a time of great social upheaval, warfare, and terrorism, and against a stark, lawless Siberia at the end of the Russian Revolution, The People’s Act of Love portrays the fragile coexistence of a beautiful, independent mother raising her son alone, a megalomaniac Czech captain and his restless regiment, and a mystical separatist Christian sect. When a mysterious, cha Set in a time of great social upheaval, warfare, and terrorism, and against a stark, lawless Siberia at the end of the Russian Revolution, The People’s Act of Love portrays the fragile coexistence of a beautiful, independent mother raising her son alone, a megalomaniac Czech captain and his restless regiment, and a mystical separatist Christian sect. When a mysterious, charismatic stranger trudges into their snowy village with a frighteningly outlandish story to tell, its balance is shaken to the core.

30 review for The People's Act of Love

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    And what was the point of this? All the glowing reviews, adulatory comments for a book that started quite well and then just meandered away into the Russian wilderness. Frustrating enough for me to write the following on The Fool: When I was younger, and not a wage earner, I used to dream about having my own library instead of having to rely on the public ones. Never again would I have to search or reserve the latest works of my favourite authors, because I'd simply buy them and read when I was i And what was the point of this? All the glowing reviews, adulatory comments for a book that started quite well and then just meandered away into the Russian wilderness. Frustrating enough for me to write the following on The Fool: When I was younger, and not a wage earner, I used to dream about having my own library instead of having to rely on the public ones. Never again would I have to search or reserve the latest works of my favourite authors, because I'd simply buy them and read when I was in the mood rather than when a chance find allowed me to. Work, and the advent of 3 for 2's in Borders, Waterstone's, Asda et al has now afforded this opportunity, and I'm learning once more to be careful of what I wish for. As my shelves groan with books that have caught my interest at some point, they scream "Read me, read me" whenever I become bogged down or bored with whatever I'm currently going through. Over Christmas, I managed 200 pages of "The People's Act of Love" before I thought, "You know what, I couldn't give a sh*t about this plot, these characters and how it all works out. Not while I quite fancy "The Mission Song", sitting new and pristine on the shelf". What a bloody waste of time, driven by the fact I'd paid £7.99 for it and was quite determined to see it through. If I'd borrowed it from the library, it would have fallen at my old 60 page rule, where if a book hadn't grabbed me by page sixty there was no point in continuing. Sometimes, like Neil Diamond, I miss the hungry years.

  2. 4 out of 5

    J

    Poor Anna Petrovna, surrounded by megalomaniac and generally delusional men. Ain’t it the truth! THANK YOU, MR MEEK! That’s not what this book is about. In Siberia in 1919, a forgotten Czech troop holds the town of Yaszyk. The town is mainly populated by an extreme sect of castrate Christians. It’s about history, revolution, Russia. It’s about ideals, cold and rational, brushing up against natural, warm-blooded reality. And it’s about love. What is love? What are its boundaries? What would you do Poor Anna Petrovna, surrounded by megalomaniac and generally delusional men. Ain’t it the truth! THANK YOU, MR MEEK! That’s not what this book is about. In Siberia in 1919, a forgotten Czech troop holds the town of Yaszyk. The town is mainly populated by an extreme sect of castrate Christians. It’s about history, revolution, Russia. It’s about ideals, cold and rational, brushing up against natural, warm-blooded reality. And it’s about love. What is love? What are its boundaries? What would you do for it? Another question running through my mind while reading: What is the worth of human life? Are some dispensable for the greater good? Of course not. We’re not terrorists or suicide bombers. Yet we send soldiers off to wars. Though set as historic fiction, The People’s Act of Love is pertinent today. I really wished for someone to talk about it with as I was reading. Unfortunately my book club couldn’t get past the cannibalism. *** “Supposing a man, the cannibal, knew that the fate of the world rested on whether he escaped from prison or not. Suppose this. He’s a man so dedicated to the happiness of the future world that he sets himself up to destroy all the corrupt and cruel functionaries he can, and break the offices they fester in, till he’s destroyed himself. Suppose he’s realized that politics, even revolution, is too gentle, it only shuffles people and offices a little. It isn’t that he sees the whole ugly torturing tribe of bureaucrats and aristocrats and money-grubbers who make the people suffer. It’s that they fall to him and his kind like a town falls to a mudslide. He’s not a destroyer, he is destruction, leaving those good people who remain to build a better world on the ruins. To say he’s the embodiment of the will of the people is feeble, a joke, as if they elected him. He is the will of the people. He’s the hundred thousand curses they utter every day against their enslavement, To hold such a man to the same standards as ordinary men would be strange, like putting wolves on trial for killing elk, or trying to shoot the wind. You can pity the innocent man he butchers, if he is innocent. But the fact the food comes in the form of a man is accidental damage. It’s without malice. What looks like an act of evil to a single person is the people’s act of love to its future self. Even to call him a cannibal is mistaken. He’s the storm the people summoned, against which not all good people find shelter in time.” “Your imaginary cannibal sounds terribly vain.” *** (Karen sent this to me.) (Karen's the sauce.)

  3. 5 out of 5

    Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer

    Story set in a Siberian town at the end of the First World War but in the midst of the Red/White struggle for Russia. The inhabitants of the town are mainly members of a castration and whirling sect – who have castrated themselves so as to remove their lustful impulses and use whirling to enter a transcendental state. A woman living in the town – Anna Petrovna – is supposedly the widow of a Hussar but in fact it emerges that her husband Balashov escaped from soldiery and is the leader of the cas Story set in a Siberian town at the end of the First World War but in the midst of the Red/White struggle for Russia. The inhabitants of the town are mainly members of a castration and whirling sect – who have castrated themselves so as to remove their lustful impulses and use whirling to enter a transcendental state. A woman living in the town – Anna Petrovna – is supposedly the widow of a Hussar but in fact it emerges that her husband Balashov escaped from soldiery and is the leader of the castrates. The town is occupied by a division of the Czech Legion, whose sadistic and insane captain Matula is ignoring instructions for them to return to their newly liberated country (after the break-up of the Austro-Hungarian empire) via the US as he prefers running his own military dictatorship (in as the book says in one of its excellent images the grey zone between war and peace). Their Lieutenant Mutz is in some ways the normal character in the book – still disorientated by the loss of the Empire, but keen to return his men to Czechoslovakia and to escape what he knows will be a massacre by the Communists who have particularly targeted the Legion for their role in an atrocity in the war. The balance of the town is disturbed by the appearance of a charismatic and powerful stranger – Samarin. Initially he is suspected of killing the town’s Shaman (who has a third eye and an albino assistant like him from an “Eskimo” type tribe) but he tells a story of being a political prisoner who has escaped from a terrible prison camp together with a murderer – the Mohican – who had actually taken Samarin along with him as walking food (a so-called “cow”). Both Anna and some of the more politically aware soldiers fall under his spell as the Reds close in. The main and explicit theme of the book is the love – its variety and the dreadful lengths people are prepared to go to in its name – particularly the love of ideals (both secular and religious). Once past the confusing early chapters the book is very readable. The book captures something of the Russian epics – especially Dostoevsky, and at times even reads like a book translated from the Russian. The imagery and phrases used are at times excellent and evocative and the more bizarre parts of the story are essentially factual. Ultimately however there is a small sense of a missed opportunity here - including some anachronistic and clumsy passages and a rather feeble end to the narrative. Postscript: I recommended this book to my Book Group based on advice from Paul (who has rated this 5*) - 10 years later, the same group refuses to read any book if I mention that Paul liked it.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jill

    Here's how I picture the kind of person who'd enjoy this book: - cranky as hell - probably has scale model trains in basement - has a proud collection of hardcover books about 20th century wars published in 1960 - dust jackets thereof ripped from overuse - condescendingly rolls eyes when you get a minor historical fact wrong in conversation - hates cocktail parties - is THAT GUY at cocktail parties - drinks vodka straight at cocktail parties - because that's how the Russians did it during the war - mildl Here's how I picture the kind of person who'd enjoy this book: - cranky as hell - probably has scale model trains in basement - has a proud collection of hardcover books about 20th century wars published in 1960 - dust jackets thereof ripped from overuse - condescendingly rolls eyes when you get a minor historical fact wrong in conversation - hates cocktail parties - is THAT GUY at cocktail parties - drinks vodka straight at cocktail parties - because that's how the Russians did it during the war - mildly sexist - bemoans progress - bemoans the lack of a modern Dostoevsky or Tolstoy - but loves Quentin Tarantino - and Band of Brothers - and other really boring violent shit that takes forever to get where it's going and never really gets there Not to stereotype; I'm just saying. I kept flipping back to the praise at the front of this book with an unattractive look of disbelief (you know the one: lip curled, eyebrow raised, brow wrinkled). Irvine Welsh? Philip Pullman? Fifteen newspapers/journals? Did you guys all read the same book as I did?! Nothing happens. Barely anything is interesting, even the moral questions that may or may not be the center of the novel. The prose is clumsy; artificial. The characters are barely sketches and the (predictable) plot dragggsssss. I suppose it gets points for historical accuracy, but I don't even know. Not a great way to finish 2014, but at least I'm not a religious nut in fucking Siberia, so.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    I was a bit disappointed after finishing The People's Act of Love. Don't get me wrong, this is certainly a book worth reading. Meek knows his Russian Lit. In particular - Dostoevsky. Structurally the novel hurtles along (like all great Dostoevsky novels) from one revelation to another, with occasional stock gathering, as a character stops to offer up some existential musing or another. All the characters are Dostoevsky weird, and some of the dramatic set pieces are first rate. (My favorite momen I was a bit disappointed after finishing The People's Act of Love. Don't get me wrong, this is certainly a book worth reading. Meek knows his Russian Lit. In particular - Dostoevsky. Structurally the novel hurtles along (like all great Dostoevsky novels) from one revelation to another, with occasional stock gathering, as a character stops to offer up some existential musing or another. All the characters are Dostoevsky weird, and some of the dramatic set pieces are first rate. (My favorite moment was probably when we first meet the mad Czech Captain Matula, at a meal where cocaine, sex, and sable killing goes on. Whoa!) The demonic (and just as crazy) Samarin is also good character, but he would have been better with a few less speeches and his heart-of-gold moment. Balashov, the castrate, ditto. Less so is Anna Petrovna, the love interest for some of the men in this strange community. And so on. The echoes - for me - are clear, but they also seem studied. The novel does hold up well until about the last hundred pages or so, and then Meek lets his grip slip. The absurdist aspects of this story takeover (and yes, I know Karamozov was meant to be a comedy, but not a slapstick one), and characters flatten out, losing some of their depth. One character's batting of grenades, or Anna's conversation with a Cossack Communist at the end, illustrate this. I started out thinking The Devils, and ended up thinking Castle Keep. Both are good (well great and good), but the tone is different for each, with Dostoevsky always playing for the higher stakes. Why? There's a God in his universe. In The People's Act of Love, the universe is simply a place of growing extremes, which in the end devour themselves (though in the case of Samarin, Meek blinks. Dostoevsky certainly didn't with Stavrogin) . And that is the difference. Dostoevsky, however dark, has his center, Meek sees none, which is fine, but if you're going to play in Fedor's sand box, you can't be surprised when people see you've left out the sand. There are, as the character Lt. Mutz puts it, "inconsistancies" in this story.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Milan/zzz

    WOW what a strange novel this is! This beautiful piece of historical fiction written in the best spirit of Russian classics is set in the coldest, isolated part of Siberia during the Russian Revolution. Place where common rules can’t be applied or can easily be neglected and therefore perfect (whatever that means) place to test your humane values and scruples. I’ve read somewhere one comment about the books as if ”Anna Karenina meets Silence of the Lambs” and that’s pretty much true with the diff WOW what a strange novel this is! This beautiful piece of historical fiction written in the best spirit of Russian classics is set in the coldest, isolated part of Siberia during the Russian Revolution. Place where common rules can’t be applied or can easily be neglected and therefore perfect (whatever that means) place to test your humane values and scruples. I’ve read somewhere one comment about the books as if ”Anna Karenina meets Silence of the Lambs” and that’s pretty much true with the difference that somehow you feel oddly sympathetic with Hannibal Lecter probably because he is breathtakingly convincing (and therefore much scary). His mission is so pure that you’re finding yourself how you almost ignoring the methods; through his words it sounds perfectly right: “…he’s a man so dedicated to the happiness of the future world that he sets himself to destroy all the corrupt and cruel functionaries he can; till he’s destroyed himself. He’s not a destroyer, he is destruction; to hold such a man to the same standards as ordinary man would be strange, like putting wolves on a trial for killing an elk, or trying to shoot the wind.” And indeed you simply can’t apply the same standard not only to that specific character but (as I said above) to the whole place where the novel is set in. Because just imagine the question like this: “under what circumstances is eating another human being justifiable?” Is there an answer on that question at all? OK maybe if you think now about that horrible true story about plane crash in South American Andes where survivors had to eat pieces of their friends who didn’t survive the crash to stay alive I should reformulate question: “under what circumstances is killing and then eating another human being justifiable?”. Other question that emerges is “How far are you ready to go in dedication yourself to the God?” and I assure you, if I tell you the answer you wouldn’t believe! So, the story is set in the middle of Siberia in the village of Yazyk and the characters is one the most impossible group of people: marooned legion of Czechoslovak troops; the members of the strangest Christian sect I’ve ever heard about; a shaman with spiritual “third” eye on his forehead; a strange widow and her son; an escapee from an Arctic gulag and of course the man who “is not destroyer but destruction itself”. Story about first two groups (Czechs and Christian sect “skoptsy”) is based on historical facts. The year is 1919 and maybe it would be nice to explain historical background of the story (but I should stress that novel is NOT about this): A turning point in the history of the Russian civil war was the rebellion of the Czech troops, surely one of its most curious episodes. The Habsburg monarchy, Russia’s enemy in the First World War, was like imperial Russia, a multinational empire. The large Slav minority within it felt oppressed, and at the time of the war showed little loyalty to the Habsburgs. A large number of Czech soldiers, for example, easily allowed themselves to be captured by the Russians. The tsarist government hesitated to play the nationality card. They refused to form an army from these prisoners of war and allow them to fight on their side. That situation changed in 1917: Czechs formed an independent corps and fight the Germans. The Czechs were enthusiastic soldiers, for they rightly believed that only the defeat of the central powers, Germany and the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, would allow them to form an independent state. When the Russian army fell apart, this tiny force alone wanted to continue fighting, but the Brest-Litovsk treaty made it impossible for them to continue their struggle. After long negotiations with the Soviet government, it was decided to allow them to travel to the Western front through Siberia, the Pacific, and the United States. The Czechs, however, never reached their destination, because while traveling through Siberia they started to fight the Bolsheviks. And this is where/when the novel is set: In one Siberian village full of Czech soldiers on their way to Pacific but trapped by the Bolsheviks and their crazy “cheef”. This novel is extremely thought provoking with such incredible twists. Truth, the start is little confusing and slow with introduction to the characters; it’s kind of little stories about them which will be joined in one story and then the book becomes un-put-down-able. Honestly I can’t remember when was the last time I was so surprised with how the story goes in the book. It’s amazingly unpredictable with turns that leave you speechless. And in the end everything is about love, about many kinds of love and sometimes in quite weird way. [it’s very hard to write about the novel and avoid the spoilers and I’m aiming to avoid them. I know I would be furious if I have found something that could spoil this great reading adventure. So here is little advice: Do not read comments on Amazon, they are full of spoilers (I’ve read them after I finished with the book)] This book is definitively not for everyone but it was very enjoyable read for me. It’s not an easy read and (as one of mine BXing friend said) “nor one that is easily forgettable”. Probably you’ll get the best image of what can you expect from this novel, from this quote: “Did you hear the story about the monk who arrived in a mall town in Poland one time, rang the bell in the marketplace, gathered all 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”

  7. 5 out of 5

    Hailly

    This was an amazing book once you got into it. This book is totally worth it but the begining chapters are very confusing/boring. However, becuase of this when everything came together it made it that much more exciting. This book is about several different characters who throughout the book realize who they are, who they love and the meaning of life. This book sounds a little mushy but its not. The author is very real which makes the book easy to relate to. I would suggest that everyone read th This was an amazing book once you got into it. This book is totally worth it but the begining chapters are very confusing/boring. However, becuase of this when everything came together it made it that much more exciting. This book is about several different characters who throughout the book realize who they are, who they love and the meaning of life. This book sounds a little mushy but its not. The author is very real which makes the book easy to relate to. I would suggest that everyone read this book.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Alexios Moore

    What you expect from Russian classics but lose in the translation.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Pris robichaud

    And, The End Justifies The Means?, 17 Jan 2006 "He's not a destroyer; he is destruction, leaving these good people who remain to build a better world on the ruins. What looks like an act of evil to a single person is the people's act of love to its future itself." Samarin pretending to speak of another, but really speaking of himself. James Meek has written a marvelous story-telling in this novel. At once so well written you would think he was writing in Russia of 1920. This is the time of the R And, The End Justifies The Means?, 17 Jan 2006 "He's not a destroyer; he is destruction, leaving these good people who remain to build a better world on the ruins. What looks like an act of evil to a single person is the people's act of love to its future itself." Samarin pretending to speak of another, but really speaking of himself. James Meek has written a marvelous story-telling in this novel. At once so well written you would think he was writing in Russia of 1920. This is the time of the Russian Revolution in 1917. So many characters woven into effortless story lines that the stories themselves somehow seem to grab our attention. The characters are revealed to a central figure and we are able to at last understand the drama and the truth. James Meek attended Edinburgh University and has become a journalist for the Guardian and the Observer reporting from Russia for ten years. He has been able with his words to show us the sights and scenes of Siberia; horror, cruelty, murder and cannibalism. And, yet the sun shining on the snow, the love of a man and a woman; the everyday life of those who live the best they can. Samarin, one of the main characters shows up in tiny, poor Yazyk, a Siberian community. His story is that of a political prisoner, a run-away from a horrible place in the Arctic. He has escaped with "Mohican" a man who took him with him, to eat his flesh. James Meek has been able to write of the horror of slicing off a foot, a head and hacking people to pieces to eat their flesh. Samarin's story is slowly unraveled but not before we meet the other characters. An extreme Christian sect that castrates its members so they can be called angels. A group of Czechoslovakian legions led by Lieutenant Mutz, he loves the earth and a woman, Anna Petrovna. She is the wife of the leader of the Christian sect, Balashov. Anna is a woman who loves men and sex, photography and her son. All these characters and more who are puzzled about many events. They learn as we do, when the puzzle begins to fit, the meaning of the extremes of the political and the spiritual and the humanity There are heroes and there is goodness, and this is a particularly special book. Highly recommended. prisrob

  10. 5 out of 5

    Fran

    Awesome, awesome, awesome. As the jacket describes it, The People's Act of Love is as rich as a classic Russian novel, but packs all that story and philosophy and beauty into under 400 pages. Even as I was hurtling toward the end, I found myself turning to previous chapters to reread passages, both to savor the language and to find clues to the many unfolding mysteries. Read it! Awesome, awesome, awesome. As the jacket describes it, The People's Act of Love is as rich as a classic Russian novel, but packs all that story and philosophy and beauty into under 400 pages. Even as I was hurtling toward the end, I found myself turning to previous chapters to reread passages, both to savor the language and to find clues to the many unfolding mysteries. Read it!

  11. 5 out of 5

    Sherrie

    Gave up after 50 pages, dull, boring,confusing, lifes too short for reading stuff you dont like!!

  12. 5 out of 5

    Tonstant Weader

    The People’s Act of Love takes place in a remote Siberian village called Yasyk in 1919 when the Bolshevik Revolution is consolidating power, driving out the Tsarist Whites. Yasyk is home to an ascetic cult of castrates, a remnant of a regiment of Czechoslovakian soldiers waiting for orders to go back home, and Anna Petrovna with her son. Anna came to Yasyk after learning her husband, a hussar, died in the war. The leader of the Czechs is a sociopathic madman named Captain Matula whose life was The People’s Act of Love takes place in a remote Siberian village called Yasyk in 1919 when the Bolshevik Revolution is consolidating power, driving out the Tsarist Whites. Yasyk is home to an ascetic cult of castrates, a remnant of a regiment of Czechoslovakian soldiers waiting for orders to go back home, and Anna Petrovna with her son. Anna came to Yasyk after learning her husband, a hussar, died in the war. The leader of the Czechs is a sociopathic madman named Captain Matula whose life was saved by Mutz, an outsider among the Czechs as he is Jewish and somewhat of a philosopher at heart. All the Czechs long to go home, though Mutz suspects Matula does not and is perhaps lying to them about their orders. After all, he’s the lord and master of Yasyk and back in Czechoslovakia he would be a small fish in a big pond and perhaps held to account for a massacre of civilians he ordered. It is all coming to a head, though, as the Red Army is approaching. Into this already tense setting comes Samarin, an escaped political prisoner with a story of a prison called the White Garden in the far north of Siberia more than a thousand miles from anywhere. He claimed he escaped with another prisoner, the Mohican, who took him along as his pig’ whom he had fattened with extra rations so that when the food ran out, he could eat him. He warns people the Mohican is coming, but somehow Samarin is here alive, still uneaten. To complicate matters, a shaman being held prisoner was murdered and Samarin seemed the obvious suspect but while he was testifying to Matula and the officers, another person was murdered. Not to mention, the body of a soldier with his hand cut off outside the village with a much older, long-dead hand laid on top of it. It would be easier to blame it all on the new arrival, but that is impossible. The People’s Act of Love has many deep questions about sin, faith, extremism, and morality. The castrates cut off their sexual organs to remove sin and the knowledge of sin, to become angels. But does that act really remove them from them their very human sins? The book opens with Samarin falling for a woman who is eventually charged with conspiracy to commit terrorism. The question is what justifies evil acts? Does political belief justify a bombing? Does survival needs justify treating a human being like livestock, fattening it up to eat later? What if the motive was love? What justifies killing another? “What looks like an act of evil to a single person is the people’s act of love to its future self,” Samarin says. There are no easy answers in this book. The People’s Act of Love at Grove Atlantic James Meek author site https://tonstantweaderreviews.wordpre...

  13. 4 out of 5

    Felice

    The People's Act Of Love by James Meek is set in a Siberian village and there isn’t even a whiff of feel good anywhere in this book. It’s the last dark days of the Russian Revolution. The hard times have left their mark all over the place. Among the population of this hellish village of Yazyk are: Anna a passionate, widowed single mother, a group of stranded Czech soldiers with a cocaine addicted Captain, a separatist Christian sect obsessed with purity, a creepy local shaman and--bonus-- the Re The People's Act Of Love by James Meek is set in a Siberian village and there isn’t even a whiff of feel good anywhere in this book. It’s the last dark days of the Russian Revolution. The hard times have left their mark all over the place. Among the population of this hellish village of Yazyk are: Anna a passionate, widowed single mother, a group of stranded Czech soldiers with a cocaine addicted Captain, a separatist Christian sect obsessed with purity, a creepy local shaman and--bonus-- the Red Army is approaching. Prior to the soldiers showing up the classic Mysterious Stranger appears. We have all read enough to know that when an outsider arrives they bring ill tidings and so it is with this novel as well. The new guy in town is Samarin. He is a charming revolutionary who immediately starts spouting stories of his traumatic escape from a distant labor camp that include being chased by a cannibal. He also has ideas to share. The kinds of ideas that authorities don’t like, ideas that make people take sides, ideas that manipulate. Suddenly where there was watchful ignoring between the citizens in Yazyk there is now violent division. The revolution, in microcosm, has arrived. Forever it seems authors have brought together strangers and desperate characters in isolated locations: country mansions, air plane crashes, war zones, pioneer settlements, space stations, 20,000 leagues under the sea, etc in order to create a laboratory of humanity. Despite using this hairy old conceit (not to mention the use of the Mysterious Stranger) Meek has made his dark novel original and intriguing. This is no casual reading experience. The tight plotting, complex relationships, reactions, audacious and grotesque action sequences all bubble up into a fantastic psychological stew worthy of grown-ups. The People’s Act Of Love an amazing novel but I have to say—not for the faint of heart.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Laura Mathieson

    When I first flicked through this book I noticed the setting – Siberia, the plot – political intrigue, and the unpronounceable names, and my heart sank. Not a book I would ever have willingly chosen! I started it, put it down, gritted my teeth and picked it up again, and slowly became engrossed in the story. Once all the main characters were in one place, Yazyk, the story started to make more sense. Did I like it? I’m still not sure! I admired the intelligence, the multi layers of story that embr When I first flicked through this book I noticed the setting – Siberia, the plot – political intrigue, and the unpronounceable names, and my heart sank. Not a book I would ever have willingly chosen! I started it, put it down, gritted my teeth and picked it up again, and slowly became engrossed in the story. Once all the main characters were in one place, Yazyk, the story started to make more sense. Did I like it? I’m still not sure! I admired the intelligence, the multi layers of story that embraced the mystery of the murder and raised deeper questions about truth and honesty, about sacrifice on all its levels, the greater good and the lesser. I admired the writing and the psychological dissection of motivation in the main characters. The language itself was often very beautiful, especially the descriptions of the Siberian landscape and the Tungus (?) But it was a cold book I felt, dispassionately examining its humans as if under a microscope, not really caring about any of them and not willing to forgive even the smallest error. There weren’t many second chances in this story. And I was cross about the assumption that his readers would know a fair amount about Russian history – I could frequently feel references flitting over my head as I wondered what he meant. Once again we have a book top heavy with male characters, but at least the lone woman had a sturdy character – I liked the way she was human with normal desires and hopes – there was something wonderfully anarchic about her. I think it is indeed a brilliant book, but not an enjoyable one. I am glad I finished it, but would hesitate to read another of his – the outlook is too bleak and unforgiving. However perhaps it is an accurate portrayal of the time and it is me who is naïve and wishing for a rosier viewpoint?

  15. 4 out of 5

    Kristen

    This was an interesting book. I enjoyed it, but couldn't say I loved it. The characters were well-developed and mostly likeable. The main character of Samarin was an exception. I never felt like I understood what motivated him - a fairly ordinary childhood didn't seem like the background that a revolutionary would have. The main theme in this book is as the title suggests - love. Love in all it's various forms; parents for children, children for parents, spouses towards each other, men and women This was an interesting book. I enjoyed it, but couldn't say I loved it. The characters were well-developed and mostly likeable. The main character of Samarin was an exception. I never felt like I understood what motivated him - a fairly ordinary childhood didn't seem like the background that a revolutionary would have. The main theme in this book is as the title suggests - love. Love in all it's various forms; parents for children, children for parents, spouses towards each other, men and women, even the love of order, and of horses (but not in a weird way). There are supporting themes as well, some of which are disturbing (cannibalism, self-mutilation), but they are presented in a way which makes sense to the story and aren't sensationalized. I learned that there is always room for people to grow and change and to make better choices, and that some decisions are irrevocable. Most of the characters in this novel experience some sort of personal growth for the better during the course of this book. In the midst of war, cold, poverty and isolation, they manage to keep their humanity. Even Samarin, who may be seen as the "villain", makes certain choices that are detrimental to his mission in order to show humanity and compassion to others. Matula is the only one-dimensional character in this book. How he becomes such a soulless and cruel person is never known. Enjoyable book, especially for anyone interested in Russian history.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Bjorn

    OK, this was indeed a fantastic book. Meek's intentions of writing a Great Russian Novel, as mentioned by Stewart above, certainly shine through - it has scope, multiple-character plot, ethical quandaries and satire that wouldn't be unworthy of ol' Fyodor D himself - while still modern (and postmodern) enough to make it a novel for today's age. But the similarities I keep finding aren't as much to writers as to movies; Col mentioned Ravenous, the praising of which I would like to join, but I also OK, this was indeed a fantastic book. Meek's intentions of writing a Great Russian Novel, as mentioned by Stewart above, certainly shine through - it has scope, multiple-character plot, ethical quandaries and satire that wouldn't be unworthy of ol' Fyodor D himself - while still modern (and postmodern) enough to make it a novel for today's age. But the similarities I keep finding aren't as much to writers as to movies; Col mentioned Ravenous, the praising of which I would like to join, but I also found myself thinking of two others: - Andrei Konchalovsky's Runaway Train - somewhat ironically an American movie made by a Russian, and in a sense the mirror image of Meek's book, tackling some of the same existential questions; that would be Samarin (not the Mohican) in Jon Voight's role. - Werner Herzog's Aguirre - that's Klaus Kinski as Matula, leading his men on a hopeless quest, far beyond what is defensible or even sane. I kept expecting him to call himself the wrath of God, but of course the wrath of God - if indeed there is such a thing here - is much sneakier in Meek's world. Yet for all its genre nods (it's something of a Wild East novel, isn't it? I'm sure we could find a role for a young Eastwood too) it's also something entirely its own. Meek's language is beautifully descriptive (I guess the fact that I keep seeing it as a movie is a testament to that) and the way he uses his realistic characters (of course, the Czechoslovak raids through Siberia is an actual historical event - and one I've always meant to read more about) to create a very personal drama out of The Big Questions is... again, the unwieldy adjective "Dostoevskyan" springs to mind. Or is it Dostoevskyesque? The book is just self-conscious enough to pull it off, despite - or perhaps thanks to - lines like this: I don't serve. You know that. I'm a manifestation. Of the present anger and the future love. How much can we be expected to sacrifice, and for what? How much can we demand that others sacrifice? The Czechoslovaks are, officially, fighting for a homeland they've never even set foot in. The Reds are fighting for a homeland they have barely even begun to imagine. Samarin has gone so far beyond idealism that he's passed into psychosis, and yet keeps going in the same direction. Balashov, the 19th century enlightened soldier, has stepped off the arena and the big industrial train comes down the track too fast to stop, dropping men and horses along the way as humanity eats itself to survive.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jeff

    like the tolstoy novels that inspired it, _the people's act of love_ unabashedly tackles philosophical "grand issues" -- the relationship between ideologies and those who manifest/embody them; the nature of love, duty, morality and hardship; and the frequent discord between outward and internal identity -- often with a great deal of success. in a turbulent post-revolution siberia, the town of yazyk is populated by militant czech occupiers and an extremist christian cult -- groups in seeming polar like the tolstoy novels that inspired it, _the people's act of love_ unabashedly tackles philosophical "grand issues" -- the relationship between ideologies and those who manifest/embody them; the nature of love, duty, morality and hardship; and the frequent discord between outward and internal identity -- often with a great deal of success. in a turbulent post-revolution siberia, the town of yazyk is populated by militant czech occupiers and an extremist christian cult -- groups in seeming polar opposition whose delicate balance is disturbed by the arrival of a mysterious intellectual/convict. because the novel relies heavily on narrative twists, it would be unwise to discuss the plot in any detail, except to say that it is at once a mystery, a love story and a work of historical fiction. blevins and kovarsky each gave _the people's act of love_ 5/5 stars so i want to be clear that my criticisms are almost exclusively stylistic and likely a reflection of my own idiosyncratic taste in prose. meek uses short, "factual" statements whose seeming simplicity is meant to belie an underlying gravitas. this style, in my view, is effective only when it appears effortless, but too often i found the language and syntax overdetermined (in a way that reminded me of cormack mccarthy, perhaps my least favorite author ever). further, meek detracts from an otherwise page-turning narrative with long descriptions of the siberian landscape; while these passages undoubtedly bolster the reader's sense of setting, they often struck me as indulgent and self-congratulatory -- something like the literary equivalent of a terrance malick film. _the people's act of love_ is without question a thought-provoking novel with worthwhile narrative elements and occassional descriptive prowess -- particularly where the christian sect's rituals are examined -- but ultimately i found it somewhat slow and difficult to get through.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Emily C.

    Set in the punishing Siberian landscape, an unlikely cast of characters play out a gruesome, unbelievable but ultimately redeeming story. The players, a Christian sect that believes in self-castration for men and women, a Czech military legion stationed in Russia, and a genius/madman escaped convict/terrorist, seem like the invention of a brilliant creative mind. They are not. They all have a basis in reality--the castrates, the Czechs in Siberia and an unspeakably vile practice for survival in Set in the punishing Siberian landscape, an unlikely cast of characters play out a gruesome, unbelievable but ultimately redeeming story. The players, a Christian sect that believes in self-castration for men and women, a Czech military legion stationed in Russia, and a genius/madman escaped convict/terrorist, seem like the invention of a brilliant creative mind. They are not. They all have a basis in reality--the castrates, the Czechs in Siberia and an unspeakably vile practice for survival in the wilderness. This book will turn your stomach and make you uncomfortable, right from the very first chapter. But it's worth a read, if only to learn about several forgotten pages in history. It gets better toward the end, when two of the most interesting characters are redeemed in a way I never saw coming. An unsettling, quality read.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Peter

    This novel is a stunning achievement, one with an epic sweep which still manages to convey the small details of people’s everyday lives. The story is set in a small backwater town in Eastern Siberia in 1919, in the earliest days of the Soviet Union, and involves a Czech regiment still stranded after WWI, a small community of religious fanatics, a lonely woman and her young son, and a dangerous criminal who infiltrates all of their lives. It’s a story of love, suspense and war which asks some ver This novel is a stunning achievement, one with an epic sweep which still manages to convey the small details of people’s everyday lives. The story is set in a small backwater town in Eastern Siberia in 1919, in the earliest days of the Soviet Union, and involves a Czech regiment still stranded after WWI, a small community of religious fanatics, a lonely woman and her young son, and a dangerous criminal who infiltrates all of their lives. It’s a story of love, suspense and war which asks some very big philosophical questions which, in intriguingly ambiguous fashion, are only partially answered. I won’t be doing a full review of the novel, since I could never adequately convey my thoughts on the subject, so I’ll simply say that this is a great book which gets my highest recommendation.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jenny

    This was a much darker historical novel than I expected. Given that Mr. Meek is a journalist, his writing is surprisingly vibrant and poetic. His respect for the genre of Russian literature (and history) is expressed subtly throughout this somewhat bizarre plot. There are 'big ideas' and philosophical questions but they don't seem tedious or painfully obvious. Questions of right and wrong, good and evil, war, sacrifice, and faith are present but not too forced. These characters have a tough time This was a much darker historical novel than I expected. Given that Mr. Meek is a journalist, his writing is surprisingly vibrant and poetic. His respect for the genre of Russian literature (and history) is expressed subtly throughout this somewhat bizarre plot. There are 'big ideas' and philosophical questions but they don't seem tedious or painfully obvious. Questions of right and wrong, good and evil, war, sacrifice, and faith are present but not too forced. These characters have a tough time in general and their struggles to survive and cope are deeply and realistically felt. The imagery of the Siberian landscape and the millions of tiny details (even in a plain white tundra) are magnificent. Despite the often disturbing content, these images made it a real pleasure to read.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Cătălina Vrabie

    So this book has: -the Russian civil war in the background -a religious cult that's f*cking nuts (if you're a guy, you'll understand) -an anarchist who wanders across Siberia and stops at virtually nothing to follow his heart and/or ideals -a historical fact that I had no idea about (a Czech Legion fighting in the Russian civil war) -a passionate woman who's disappointed in love and proceeds to do whatever the f*ck she pleases What's not to love about it? I found all these elements created a very orig So this book has: -the Russian civil war in the background -a religious cult that's f*cking nuts (if you're a guy, you'll understand) -an anarchist who wanders across Siberia and stops at virtually nothing to follow his heart and/or ideals -a historical fact that I had no idea about (a Czech Legion fighting in the Russian civil war) -a passionate woman who's disappointed in love and proceeds to do whatever the f*ck she pleases What's not to love about it? I found all these elements created a very original story, with some reflections on faith & God & politics & the greater good so reminiscent of Russian classics (especially Dostoevsky) that I was really, really pleasantly surprised. I've just seen that the reviews are rather negative, but I don't care what others think, I loved it.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Aria

    Dnf p. 145. I thought I might enjoy this as the setting is in a time & place that holds particular interest to me. However, each chapter is from another character, a device which irks me every time. Setting that aside, the rest of the story just didn't hold up. Half the time people didn't make a lot of sense while they were talking. I couldn't tell why anyone was doing what they doing, or why they were where they were. It was kind of a mess. I'm not sure how I managed to get as far as I did. I h Dnf p. 145. I thought I might enjoy this as the setting is in a time & place that holds particular interest to me. However, each chapter is from another character, a device which irks me every time. Setting that aside, the rest of the story just didn't hold up. Half the time people didn't make a lot of sense while they were talking. I couldn't tell why anyone was doing what they doing, or why they were where they were. It was kind of a mess. I'm not sure how I managed to get as far as I did. I have to recommend potential readers save themselves some trouble & skip this one.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Brendan

    Insightful measure of the human soul set in the expansive Russian tundra. Such depth, with such decisive and efficient writing, is a wonder of craft to behold.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Zulfiya

    Such an interesting book to review. I decided to expand my reading horizons and get exposed to books outside the usual NPR/Amazon/ Publishers Weekly suggestions. This one was the BBC Bookclub on Radio 4 for the month of February, and I was even surprised to find the audio version in my local library as the book was totally unknown to me. First off, so much has been said most recently about cultural appropriation and authentic voices. I do not give two cents about preposterous claims that some st Such an interesting book to review. I decided to expand my reading horizons and get exposed to books outside the usual NPR/Amazon/ Publishers Weekly suggestions. This one was the BBC Bookclub on Radio 4 for the month of February, and I was even surprised to find the audio version in my local library as the book was totally unknown to me. First off, so much has been said most recently about cultural appropriation and authentic voices. I do not give two cents about preposterous claims that some stories need to be told only by specific voices or in their own voices. Fiction is by definition fiction, and stories can be told by whoever is telling them, and then readers should critique books, not authors' backgrounds ... Feel free to lambast the book if it is poorly researched or if it does not sound authentic, or if the writing is subpar or makes you cringe, but please do not decide who should be writing what. In regards to this rant, the book is written not by the authentic Russian voice, but damn, did it sound like a typical Russian story, told in the Russian voice, but in English. That was so funny and mildly curious to me. Everything was Russian in the book, even though the author admitted that he wrote the book about people not Russian people, but I internalized it as a very Russian book. The landscape is Russian, the characters with their quirkiness, loyalty, disjointed love, hatred, ambitions and sacrifices are Russian, even the irreligiosity and religions are so preposterously Russian. The author captures his characters at the pivotal and fractured moment of Russian history- pre and post revolution during the Civil War with the confusion and isolation of Siberia where nearly phantasmagoric events take place - cannibalism, Czech intervention, religious castration. When I was listening to the book, I had a feeling that I was migrating between books of Gogol, Dostoyevsky, and even Bulgakov. This is how Russian it seemed to be.

  25. 5 out of 5

    David Butler

    This is an astonishing achievement. Comparisons have been made, with some justice, to Dostoevski and the Russian greats. Meek’s novel certainly has something of the epic sweep of Pasternak, say, but the psychology reminded me also of Hamsun, or Zweig or Joseph Roth. The language is wonderful without being showy: “The convicts and the garrison were starving. You could see the bird of hunger roosting on them, waiting for the hunger to hatch out, a mildewed mother-bird waiting for a brood of white This is an astonishing achievement. Comparisons have been made, with some justice, to Dostoevski and the Russian greats. Meek’s novel certainly has something of the epic sweep of Pasternak, say, but the psychology reminded me also of Hamsun, or Zweig or Joseph Roth. The language is wonderful without being showy: “The convicts and the garrison were starving. You could see the bird of hunger roosting on them, waiting for the hunger to hatch out, a mildewed mother-bird waiting for a brood of white skulls to peck their way blindly out of these shriveled heads.” This is writing of the highest order.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Kevin

    Struggled to get into this one. Once there however I found that I read it in large chunks which helped with keeping it fresh in my mind. Was a dark story in dark times and covered some history I was unfamiliar with.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Johan

    A dense and unyielding narrative filled with long-winded monologues and retellings completely blocked me from enjoying what this book was really about... who knows?

  28. 5 out of 5

    Bethan

    I loved this so much. So much happens, I don't understand the reviews that say it's boring! The big ideas and the little details are both handled so deftly and the setting and characters are vivid. I loved this so much. So much happens, I don't understand the reviews that say it's boring! The big ideas and the little details are both handled so deftly and the setting and characters are vivid.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Peter Black

    Well written, original, intriguing but I struggled a bit finishing it as it was quite intense and prose fairly dense

  30. 5 out of 5

    Janette Fleming

    Difficult to get in to as the first few chapters are very confusing and complex as each chapter is a snippet of a different persons life. Stick with it....please! It is only when these individual stories start to interconnect, as Cindy said 'the confusion becomes more interesting than confusing.' Set in Russia 1919 in the village of Yazyk, a remote outpost in the Siberian wilderness during the Russian Revolution. The village is populated by a stranded regiment of Czech soldiers, a beautiful wido Difficult to get in to as the first few chapters are very confusing and complex as each chapter is a snippet of a different persons life. Stick with it....please! It is only when these individual stories start to interconnect, as Cindy said 'the confusion becomes more interesting than confusing.' Set in Russia 1919 in the village of Yazyk, a remote outpost in the Siberian wilderness during the Russian Revolution. The village is populated by a stranded regiment of Czech soldiers, a beautiful widow with her son and a very strange religious sect. Into this staggers an escaped convict from a Siberian Gulag camp 'The White Garden 'who warns them he is being followed by another prisoner called The Mohican. Oh and the Bolsheviks are closing in on the town intent on taking revenge on the Czech legion for a massacre of a town. It is written as if it is of its time, Russia 1919, with idea driven characters (cue lots of existential ponderings) that could have come from the pen of Dostoevsky. I love the sweeping Russian forms of address “Good morning Viktor Timifeyovich, good morning Pelageya Fedotiva” and “Comrade Chairman , Soviet of the Railways workers of Verkhny Luk”...” etc etc The whole thing, characters, plot, setting is totally deranged but what magnificent storytelling! A epic story of Russia evocatively written, the narrative in dispersed with haunting letters, monologues and breathtaking, almost cinematic, descriptions of the vicious Siberian landscape where even the trees shudder with the cold The historical detail is exquisite such as the fate of the abandoned Czech regiments in Russia and the life and death of the Hussars and their beloved horses. "At the time they left Prague in 1914 there had been 171 of them. ... In February 1917, when the Russians had their first revolution, and nobody knew who was in charge, there wasn't much bread to be had. The younger Cerny died of the fever. ... Dragoun and Najman froze to death on the second night. ... After their company shot some peasants, Buchta and Lanik said their comrades were dirty reactionary sons of bitches, and went over to the Bolsheviks. Biskup and Pokorny, who kept complaining that they weren't being paid, went off to rob a bank in Odessa. ... In a Siberian rail halt in autumn, five years later, mutiny hung from the branches, too ripe even to need to pick. ... A hundred men with 945 toes between them, the balance lost to frostbite, and 980 fingers." Until I read this book I never knew that the Tungas, the indigenous people of Siberia, even existed never mind that they rode domesticated reindeer and had Shamans. At the books heart is basically human nature stripped bare...love, lust, cruelty, fanaticism, guilt and sacrifice It is a while since I became so deeply involved in a book and its characters and the highest praise I can give it is to say I will read it again, something I hardly ever do......

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