“As literature, Edward Rutherfurd’s historical novels are not successful. They judder slowly along ill-made roads, like carts with square wheels, and the beauty of the scenery through which they pass does not entirely distract the passenger’s mind from his aching bottom and tired eyes. As vehicles for delivering the fruits of research, however, they are not only efficient, but might truly be called works of art.” – The Independent – 2003
That about sums it up. They’re also very long.
******* Russka By Edward Rutherford 1991 / 946 pages Read by Wanda McCaddon 39h 53m Rating: 8 / historical fiction (Both read and listened) *******
Yes, the strength of Russka is definitely the history. Oh there is a long twisted fictional story concerning several generations, and their own stories, but the emphasis is on a broad overview of the history of central Russia including what is going on from the oldest days of “Steppe and Forest” to 1990 and just before the fall of the USSR.
“Russka” is a fictional settlement not too far south of Moscow, but the setting moves to St Petersburg or further into the Ukraine when appropriate.
Because the history is so broad there’s not a whole lot on any one era, but I found tidbits which were totally new to me and I studied Russian history in college and have read some in the close to 50 years since so I know the general outline. This is one of the reasons I’d been attracted to the book for so long and even started it once.
Bottom line I very much appreciated the book, but didn’t love it. It’s very similar to the some of the early works by James Michener and I’ve read probably a half dozen of those. I might have read a couple of Rutherford’s books as well but I don’t quite remember how many or how much of them.
Anyway, Rutherford starts with a boy standing near a forest and watching some armed and mounted horsemen ride by. As you can see by the genealogical table in the front of the book this boy is the ancestor of one family of people while another person from the same general times is the ancestor of another group of people. The table puts these family lines next to each other to keep the chronology – yes, they live near and know each other well. Overall there are four families involved.
The changing laws, the Catholic Church, the Tsar and his doings, the organization of society and so on are all examined from the points of view of fictional characters in the the generally upper classes (no aristocracy) and lower ones (no homeless people).
The writing is usually mediocre at best although there are places where it sings. But had Rutherford used heavy prose or insightful themes the whole thing might have gone on overload. The scope of the generations and the plot lines of each “era” make for plenty of filling.
Only a few of the characters are well defined and individually drawn although this might be expected as I think they are meant to be “types.” There is no real over-riding theme except the history and general class conflict as seen through the eyes of various levels concerned, the plots of each section/era are pretty good and the world building is wonderful – engrossing and the language furthers that effort. https://u.osu.edu/waitelit3356iip/elements-of-historical-fiction/
The narrator/reader of the Audible version does a wonderful job, her tone and accent pleasant with appropriate speed and rhythm.