(review by Leticia Lara, originally appeared at Fantastica Ficcion)
Some days ago I found myself with ten euros to spend in an online bookstore and I thought to buy some of the books that I’d have liked to read but never did buy it for whatever reason. The book I purchased was Ekaterina Sedia’s The secret history of Moscow.
I really like mythology but I know close to nothing about Russian folklore, so for me it was a new field to explore.
Sedia tells us a story about a series of mysterious, impossible disappearances (there are no witnesses, no ways out, it’s like they have just vanished) that joins the life of Galina, a young woman with schizophrenia who is looking for her sister, Yakov, the policeman helping her and Fyodor, a street performer who seems to know how to go to strange places.
We will get to know the backstory of all three of them, but in my opinion, the best part of the book are the short stories that are told by the people they find in their way, in a very one-thousand-and-one-nights way. Here I find one of the flaws of the novel, the plot is somehow weak, the side-stories are way more interesting.
In their journey through the underworld, we get to know a cast of characters from every time and social class, such as Timur, a Golden Horde Mongol warrior, Elena the Decemberist wife or Koschey the Deathless, so we can see some aspects of the mythological history of Russia. You may have to use Wikipedia to understand everything (something that I really like) but you’ll get to see a series of wonderful images of Russia, although always through a militaristic point of view (is there any country whose history is not written in blood?)
Sedia also describes in a dispassionately and sad way the actual life in the country, where thieves and mafia are everywhere, where communism heroes are destroyed and alcoholism seems the only way out. This description is shocking and there seems to be no hope. The end of the book, that can be read as hopeful or irremediable, made me finish the reading with mixed feelings.