It’s the mid 1800s in Russia when Tsar Nocholas I is on his throne. The vast countryside is living on agriculture and kettles. During those times, the nobility was owning all the land, and the serfs that were living on their property would cultivate grain and other crop for the nobleman and for their families as well. The serfs would belong to the noble family and in turn the noble family would be responsible for their prosperity and good health. The serfs were peasants with hardly enough education to go by. The whole family would work the land and animals if any and they would live by the preaching of the Church.
Two serfs, Elizaveta and Feodor are friends since childhood. The one’s parents are the godparents of the other, which in the eyes of the Church makes them siblings. So, falling in love with each other a a bog sin, but this is what happens and they cannot control it. They are not allowed to celebrate their love though, because it is forbidden. So they are separated, but they never forget each other. Elizaveta, as a woman, has so little freedom to rule her life. She must obey her husband, provide him with children, never refuse his bed, work the land, have no possessions and no opinion. She is the main voice of the book, so we get to see first handed what all the above really mean. Life doesn’t do justice to her, as it didn’t do for many other women of her era and many other serfs as well. She is forced into an unwanted married, never really being asked for her concession to what would be the rest of her life. Her husband is a man that feels he has to reform her when she does something he doesn’t agree with. He is always right and according to the rules of the time, he has every right to do it.
The other voice of the book is that of Count Maximov, the nobleman of the estate. He has a big family but he feels lonely. His wife, Sophia was not been herself after the loss of a child. He just wants his wife back, but he only get’s glimpses of her. These are the worst, because he is reminded of the old times, and their relationship in the past and that is then taken from him so abruptly when Sophia returns to her new self. His other big issue is with his son Anton, who has a weird relationship with his mother. And as he grows up he becomes more of a pain for his father, as he is not even the slightest of responsible person as his brother is. He always creates problems and difficult situations and he is often in a need of help and support. The last of Count Maximov’s problems is the emancipation of the serfs that comes in when Tsar Alexander takes the reins of the country. This becomes a problem for both the Count and the serfs.
The story is a wonderful depiction of the country at those years. It gives a very clear picture of the struggles people would have at the time, as well as how every day life was. This is how most of the countries in Europe where during those times and Russia was only following Europe’s example when freeing the serfs. However, the perspective the people had in the 19th century was very much in accordance to the preaching of the Church and social standards.
Overall, this was a wonderful story and I so blame myself for not having read it earlier!
I received a complimentary ecopy from the publisher via NetGalley. The views expressed are my personal and honest opinion.