made rebloggable by request
WHOA OKAY HERE WE GO
never went in and did a full review of the book, mostly because I think I probably got distracted and then a whooollle nother section of tumblr took over that book and started posting that dumb overwrought bit about applying makeup all over the place and then i went UGH and stopped publicly being a fan but REGARDLESS:
the end of the book makes a whooooole lot of sense depending on how much you know about the postwar USSR, and how the fact that Marya outright says that this is Viy’s country now reflects that idea.
“It’s over Marya. Koschei’s country has passed from the face of the earth. It doesn’t show silver on the streets anymore because the streets are gone. It’s all silver. It’s all dead. When the mud came up in the spring and mired the German tanks and broke them, do you think anyone thought, That must be the vodyanoy, rising up to protect their country, to fight alongside us? No, they thought it was the weather. And so it was. Men like Viy, who are blind to the deeds of their own hands, who reach out for souls. Our kind belong to him, now. We wander, lost, and you cannot even see the silver on our chests anymore, because all the human world is the Country of Death, and in thrall, and finally, after all this time, we are just like everyone else. We are all dead. all equal. Broken and aimless and believing we are alive. This is Russia and it is 1952. What else would you call hell?”
By the end of World War Two, tens, upon tens, upon tens of millions of people are dead. Millions are in prison in Lubyanka, in Solovky, in a sea of prisons stretching across Siberia. There isn’t a single family left untouched either by the Germans or the KGB- there isn’t a single family without at least one family member in prison.
All the great fire eaters are dead now. Bulgakov is dead. Kharms is dead. Mayakovsky has been shot. Babel has been tortured and executed. The millions in Ukraine and rural Russia who died from collectivization have been replaced by the millions upon millions who died because of the Germans.
The prisons are full. The prisons are going to fill up more and more. More and more people are going to disappear, things are only going to get worse. Political prisoners like Solzhenitsyn and Ratushinskaya are going to be a fact of life until the Eighties. The great Soviet Experiment has succeeded beyond all expectations, it has weathered the Great Terror, it has weathered the War, and this is how life is now.
Stalin isn’t going to die for another two years.
The country that Marya is in now is not a country that is alive anymore, not really. It has been shot, stabbed, starved, and strangled. It has been beaten so hard, and so long, that it doesn’t know what it is anymore. And Deathless is a love letter to Russia, Deathless is a love letter to Russian language and history and culture, to Russian forms of speech and Russian themes and Russian people and the weird warped landscape of the Russian soul, and Deathless is also a eulogy to what died and was lost and what was murdered and lost and how for a period in time, Russia existed in a state of perpetual living death that was to go on for another handful of decades- one that it is still, still, waking up from.
Russia experienced a nigh-total cultural death. And when Baba Yaga says in the end, “There never was an old country. Everything will be new forever.” that’s what she’s really saying. But then, she says:
“And on my life I would never suggest to you that stories cannot be forgotten in the bone, even when a brother or a wizard or a rifle says you must, you must forget it, it never happened; there is only the world as it is now, and there has never been another, can never be any other.”
Stories cannot be forgotten in the bone. And if Russia dies, it comes back to life, in thirty or forty years, sure, or even quietly, day by day. And the Country of Death can become the Country of Life again. And stories aren’t forgotten. And cultures can die, can be murdered, and they can come back again. And Tsaritsas can walk the long road up to the black palace amidst all the shell fragments and shattered glass and they can find their husbands again.