May 01, 2021

In Many Guises

In Many Guises

It is 1919 and the Yellow House is an insane asylum on an estate in the middle of a Russian forest, a cold, muddy day’s walk at least to the next village. The White Army, or possibly only local bandits, are lurking, while the Reds are coursing through the region and rooting out any hint of resistance. When Death is coming from all directions, do you stay put, or flee?

“The Whites, the Reds, the Greens,” ruminates one character. “The only thing that matters is the black earth.”

The novel opens with two murders at the Yellow House, and continues with too many more to count. We see the helter-skelter of famine and civil war through the eyes of various characters: doctors, nurses, patients, lackeys, not to mention a could-be witch, a feminist grandma, a hungry cat and a devilish conman, known at various times as Tutyshkin, who is, like all Russian conmen, variously charming, cynical and incompetent:

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