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richardderus

Expendable Mudge Muses Aloud

Deathless - Catherynne M. Valente Rating: 4.25* of five The Book Report: The book description says:“Koschei the Deathless is to Russian folklore what devils or wicked witches are to European culture: a menacing, evil figure; the villain of countless stories which have been passed on through story and text for generations. But Koschei has never before been seen through the eyes of Catherynne Valente, whose modernized and transformed take on the legend brings the action to modern times, spanning many of the great developments of Russian history in the twentieth century.Deathless, however, is no dry, historical tome: it lights up like fire as the young Marya Morevna transforms from a clever child of the revolution, to Koschei’s beautiful bride, to his eventual undoing. Along the way there are Stalinist house elves, magical quests, secrecy and bureaucracy, and games of lust and power. All told, Deathless is a collision of magical history and actual history, of revolution and mythology, of love and death, which will bring Russian myth back to life in a stunning new incarnation.”My Review: Remember how I said I didn't like books with majgickq and elves and stuff, and how very resistant I'd be so such stories?Ha.Magical to a fault, mystical and full of eyerollingly silly things like big black cars with chicken's feet instead of tires, and factories where soldiers are hand-loomed by the Tsar of Life's cast-off mistresses under the supervision of Baba Yaga.And what can I say? Like every hard and fast rule, this rule went flooey in no time at all, thanks to some ecstatic carolings and appreciative lowings from some very talented reviewers. You terrible people know who you are. I don't love you for causing me to eat my words so publicly.Russia is a strange, strange place to me. During some really vicious pogroms they tossed in the 19th century, a Polish Jewish ancestress of mine...great-grandmother...walked away from her shtetl, her family, and her identity, got to Bavaria and married an old Catholic man with no living children but who had a shop, and started again. He died, she sold up, she moved on to the USA via Paris, two kids and an American lover in tow. So thanks Russians for being murderously anti-Semitic or I wouldn't be alive today! But the culture that gave rise to the anti-Semitic stuff has always filled me with disgust and not a little horror at the christian hate and apostolic misery doled out on all the people. The myths of the peasantry seem so unforgiving and tricksy and just plain vicious. Then I contemplate the way the country was run (being polite, not well, not ever)...it makes sense...but it still always made me feel icky to read about it.Then comes this melding of myth and materialsm, supernatural and Supreme Soviet...and I fell head first into love with the package.Valente's use of language is exemplary. She never stints or holds back. Descriptions are abundant yet they are never obfuscatory; the idea is to create a 3-D experience in the reader's mind and by GUM (old Cold War humor, sorry) she does just exactly that. She never reaches beyond her grasp or talks down to her audience. If only a Russian word will do, there it is, and the nuances are not Spelled Out For You and neither must you resort to Google and Good Luck to find out what the hell this woman's on about.This (revoltingly) young writer has the temerity and the confidence and the chops to pull off this melding of modernity and medievalism without breaking a (visible) sweat. That's one sweet achievement. This is a book that's as Russian as hot tea with sour cherry preserves and as American as serving it in a Starbucks cup.And it's beautiful. And it's moving. And it's graceful and lovely and possessed of the most marvelous ability to switch from tango to waltz to jitterbug. Dance with her. This opportunity doesn't come every day.