This sequel to The Revolution of Marina M. follows our heroine Marina, who was a middle-class teenager during the Russian revolution, through the years of the Russian civil war. The first book left Marina separated from the man she loved passionately who cheated on her, pregnant with his child, alone and friendless in a country that has in a few short years turned itself inside-out and upside-down. Marina has been a good Communist in her time, but the lines of allegiance are shifting so quickly that she’s no longer sure who can be trusted in this new landscape.
There’s plenty of landscape in this book, as Marina ends up travelling across Russia with her ex-husband (not the father of her child, although he’s going to make an appearance too, don’t worry) on a train that’s basically a travelling Communist propaganda show. Eventually she ends up back in her home city of St. Petersburg — sorry, Petrograd — a city transformed beyond recognition from the one she grew up in. Here she suffers shattering personal loss, tremendous risk, artistic growth, and more than one betrayal. Marina, as a fictional poet, interacts with several real-life characters from Russian literature, including Maxim Gorky and Anna Akhmatova. Through it all, she is driven by a ruthless determination to survive.
I’m no expert on Russian history; to this non-expert it felt like, as in the first book, Fitch was capturing the tenor and uncertainty of those turbulent times perfectly, showing us a Russian revolution and civil war that was so much more complex than the simplified pocket version we learned in school — an ever-shifting world of changing alliances, power-hungry rulers, and people like Marina just trying to survive.
And all this before Stalin ever arrives on the scene!
There are many more things that could happen to Marina, and that will happen to Russia, but we’ve already learned from the prologue to the first book that an older Marina will be making her life far from her beloved Russia, and the ending of Chimes gives us an idea of how that will happen, without promising another volume. If this is the end of Marina’s story, I think the author has done a good job of bringing reader and character through those difficult years.