Friday, April 23, 2010

Misnamed and misblurbed

Novels about Russia always pull me in. I think it started when I read We the Living in high school. I love reading about Russia under the czars, and find stories of revolution compelling. So, based on the cover and the blurb, I picked up The Red Scarf (Kate Furnivall) from the library.

I read it quickly, very very quickly. I kept slipping away from my children to read. It had me hooked early on. It reminded me in some ways of We the Living, though I read that so many years ago. (I don't know if Ms. Furnivall had it in mind when she was writing The Red Scarf, but after reading a few reviews to refresh my memory, I noticed that Sofia's last name is the same as one of Rand's characters.)

Sofia and Anna are prisoners - enemies of the state - in a Soviet labor camp in Siberia. Anna is sick, so very sick. After she saves Sofia's life, Sofia determines to escape and save hers. And so she makes her way to a small village where, based on scraps of information from the past, she expects to find Vasily, Anna's childhood friend - and a cache of jewels, with which to buy Anna's release.

The story goes between Anna in the camp, Sofia on the run and in the village, and memories of both women's pasts. This worked well for me, and I didn't find it confusing; it really added to the story. And when those scraps of information turned out not to be entirely accurate, it didn't bother me; the complications were good, not a distraction.

But then Sofia gets to the village and things fall apart a little bit. There's that old gypsy with the eerie eyes who knows she's coming before she arrives, and has the ability to make people see and do things that he wants them to see and do. OK, a little hypnotism in a story never hurts, even when it seems unlikely that someone will look at a blank piece of paper and see identity documents. But then, suddenly there's a secret ceremony and we've got full-on magic. Including a magic rock. Not Bewitched-twitch-your-nose-and-disappear magic, but once this is introduced, seemingly impossible obstacles are overcome.

There's also a romantic element that gets a little too close to romance-novel style. And some events come together too easily even without the magic. I never did figure out how the plane ride that got Sofia and her companion closer to Anna came about.

I am always a little reluctant to express my criticism of a book. If I know so much better, why don't I write my own? Those who can write, do; those who can't write, complain about writers' shortcomings. Well, I can't write a better novel. I don't have that talent. This writer does, I think. This could have been a truly great novel without the gratuitous magic, which made me feel cheated. If the blurb had mentioned it, I wouldn't have picked this up.

And the title? The red scarf gets 2 brief mentions. It is not an important part of the story at all. I kept waiting for it to be, but... no.

If I was writing an Amazon review, I'd give this book 2 stars. I wish it could have been more!

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