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nataliya

nataliya

“Books are a uniquely portable magic.” 
― Stephen King, On Writing.

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"If you want to know what a man's like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals."— J.K. Rowling

Kremlin Wives - Larissa Vasilieva This book is so disappointingly underwhelming that it barely deserves a review - but has that EVER stopped me? Before I start, let me get one thing straight - Kremlin Wives is really little more than yellow press masquerading as a book. It reminds me of the endless exposés and 'revelations' in the popular early-Soviet semi-sensational newspapers that my father was fond of buying for some bathroom-time reading. And bathroom-time reading is precisely what this book should be relegated to...............The premise is fascinating, yes. The hidden lives of the "Kremlin wives", the mostly-overlooked women behind the powerful figures in the Soviet history. Needless to say, I was sold on this immediately. Having recently read brilliant nonfiction books by Svetlana Alexievich, one of which provided a unique 'female' perspective on the World War II, I was looking for something similar. I did not get that. Just like Alexievich, Larissa Vasilieva poses the question of male and female history being very different and separate. Ok, I can buy that. The problem is - unlike Alexievich, Vasilieva does not deliver on the promise.My problem is not with the premise; it's with EVERYTHING ELSE in this book. Yes, I'm frustrated enough to require a caps lock here. What Vasilieva thinks she's presenting is investigative journalism. What Vasilieva actually is doing is throwing in a bunch of unresearched 'facts' without any actual evidence backing up any of her claims, throwing in random rumors (often without any mention of the sources) and 'treating' the reader to her off-the-rails interpretation of the events and rumors based on little else but the point that she hopes to make and jumps to very dubious conclusions that in no way stem from the 'evidence' she presents. After all, who needs substance when instead you can go for SENSATIONAL! (Even though quite often what she perceives as 'sensatinal' is plainly boring). And then she peppers her prose with numerous needless rhetorical questions, one-sentence paragraphs, one-word sentences meant to make her book sound edgy and fascinating. Well. No. It does NOT work."He was like a thunder in the clear skies.He was like lightning in the night.He was like the strike of a bell.He was...Having seen and heard him [Lenin], Krupskaya immediately realized that the revolution was "close and possible"Who needs facts when instead we can be treated to Vasieleva's presumptions of what her characters - real people from not-so-remote history! - must have thought and felt. In no way does she ever preface the passages with anything like: "...And Krupskaya may have thought...". Instead, she immediately, determinedly, without a second thought jumps straight into her subjects' inner monologues and motivations, as though she has any way of knowing that. I'm sorry, citizen Vasilieva, that is YOUR SPECULATION without any back-up that you are trying to present as history. And I'm not okay with that. That's not journalism, that's fiction, in which case you should have presented your book as such. Which you did not. And that does not sit well with me.Vasilieva tries really hard to create a unifying theme for her book, but it's rather clear that for a while she has idea what it is going to be. And then, at some point, she seems to have come up with a brilliant idea that this will be about the separation between "the male" and "the female", the clashes and collisions between the two, the incompatibility of one and another. And in doing that she manages - under the veil of supporting women, no less! - to be as subtly misogynistic as it's possible to be while trying to come across as not being such.Her presumptions from the start - and at the risk of causing the wraith of many Russians, these are not atypical of the former Soviet society back then and now - are that all women want is to be tied to a man, that all women have ever done in history was because they were proving something to men, and that what all your 'normal' women would want would include home (which she should maintain), husband, and children. What women want to be is kind, caring, gentle, forgiving. What women are is no more than the very opposite of men. And if women deviate from all of the above, it's because of the expectations of male-centric society and definitely NOT because of her own wishes. Because that would be unnatural. That's the message that is being sent between the lines. And I'm not okay with that. All in all, this book is not worth your time unless you are looking for a nice piece of prose for those pesky moments (or, if you are that unlucky - hours) of constipation. There are many books that present better written accounts of history and that are much better examples of journalism. Barely one and a half stars. NOT RECOMMENDED.