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Away from the Dead

por David Bergen

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2131,062,130 (4.38)6
Longlisted, Scotiabank Giller Prize Violence is the domain of both the rich and poor. Or so it seems in early 20th-century Ukraine during the tumult of the Russian Revolution. As anarchists, Bolsheviks, and the White Army all come and go, each claiming freedom and justice, David Bergen embeds his readers into the lives of characters connected through love, family, and loyalty. Lehn, a bookseller south of Kiev, deserts the army and writes poetry to his love back home; Sablin, an adopted Mennonite-Ukrainian stableboy, runs with the anarchists only to discover that love and the planting of crops is preferable to killing; Inna, a beautiful young peasant, tries to stop a Mennonite landowner from stealing her child. In a world of violence, Sablin, Lehn, and Inna learn to love and hate and love again, hoping, against all odds, that one can turn away from the dead. In this beautifully crafted novel, David Bergen takes us to a place where chaos reigns, where answers come from everywhere and nowhere, and where both the beauty and horror of humanity are on full display.… (mais)
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I always look forward to the newest work by David Bergen. This novel concentrates on the lives of a Mennonite brother and sister and a secular Jewish man in World War One Ukraine. There is fighting with many groups involved- Germans, Bolsheviks, Anarchists, and White Army. There are terrible things done to innocent villagers and every group makes a mark on the lives of Lehn-the bookseller, Inna-the peasant wronged by a wealthy family and her brother Sablin who manages to survive the worst of the injustices. The writing is clear and gives the reader a sense of the upheavals that took place in the Ukraine during and after the war. This novel is on the longest of the Giller Prize and I am surprised that it was not chosen for the shortlist. I highly recommend this excellent work. ( )
  torontoc | Jan 3, 2024 |
Surviving the Ukrainian War of Independence 1917-1921
Review of the Goose Lane Editions paperback edition (September 5, 2023)

This woman has no overt politics, though it might aid her if she did, and if her husband is a landowner, if he has earth that he calls his own, he might be shot, or he might live, but he will probably be killed, because he is a kulak who took what was not rightfully his, or he will be killed because he is in the wrong place.


Away from the Dead is set in a war-torn Ukraine, but not during the current Russia-Ukraine War (2022-) but instead almost a century earlier, during the chaos of the aftermath of the Russian Revolution of 1917 when various former provinces of the former Tsarist Russian Empire fought for their independence against what became the ruling Russian Bolshevik Communist government.

This was not a clearcut conflict between Ukrainian nationalists versus outsider colonialists. Instead there were several opposing forces of foreign powers, tsarists, anarchists*, communists marauding the land and terrorizing the local populace. Bergen sets his story in the midst of this conflict with several main characters including a bookseller, landowners and farm workers.

The Canadian tie-in is that many of the Ukrainian Mennonites became emigrants to Canada in their journey "Away from the Dead." This novel was in the classic style of epic historical fiction focusing on the lives of regular people who are caught up in a terror-filled time of conflict which not all of them will survive. I found this book to be completely engrossing and a compelling read which, although often depressing and traumatic, provides a light of hope at its end.

I read Away from the Dead through its being Longlisted for the 2023 Scotiabank Giller Prize. It did not make the shortlist which was announced on Wednesday October 11, 2023. The winner will be announced on Monday November 13, 2023.

Footnote
* The Makhnovshchina [romanized from the Ukrainian Махновщина i.e. "Makhno Movement"] was a mass movement to establish anarchist communism in southern and eastern Ukraine during the Ukrainian War of Independence of 1917–1921. Named after Nestor Makhno, the commander-in-chief of the Revolutionary Insurgent Army of Ukraine, its aim was to create a system of free soviets that would manage the transition towards a stateless and classless society.

Other Reviews
A Novel set in War-Torn Ukraine, CBC Books, August 23, 2023.
Book Review: Away from the Dead, I've Read This, September 28, 2023 [also links to a BookTube review].

Trivia and Links
There was a September 21, 2023 book launch event for Away from the Dead at the Winnipeg International Writers Festival which you can watch on YouTube here.

Author David Bergen discusses the novel at the "Russlaender Mennonites: War, Dislocation, and New Beginnings" Conference at the University of Winnipeg in Winnipeg, Canada on July 15, 2023 which you can watch on YouTube here.

In his Author's Note for the novel, David Bergen acknowledges two books, Victor Shklovsky's A Sentimental Journey: Memoirs, 1917-1922 (1923) and John P. Dyck's Troubles and Triumphs 1914-1924 Excerpts From the Diary of Peter J. Dyck (1981), as being his primary sources for some of the historical background material. ( )
  alanteder | Oct 14, 2023 |
A masterpiece,by far one of the most beautiful,moving novels I have ever read. Beautiful throughout. An incredible achievement and an enormous gift to people who love books and to whom love to read. ( )
  alans | Sep 15, 2023 |
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In this quietly potent and devastatingly beautiful novel, Winnipeg’s David Bergen brings the war home, into the lives and hearts of ordinary men and women who just want to raise their children, harvest their crops, sell their books and love each other....Away From the Dead Bergen writes of death and loss with prose that is spare, careful and understated without ever feeling flat......This is a shattering anti-war novel, but Bergen tends to focus on small concrete details rather than grand tableaux. He obliquely suggests the horrors of trench warfare, for instance, by describing a soldier so inured to death that he uses a dead man’s back as a table for his soup pot....Bergen’s potent new historical fiction bristles against the horrors of war
 
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Longlisted, Scotiabank Giller Prize Violence is the domain of both the rich and poor. Or so it seems in early 20th-century Ukraine during the tumult of the Russian Revolution. As anarchists, Bolsheviks, and the White Army all come and go, each claiming freedom and justice, David Bergen embeds his readers into the lives of characters connected through love, family, and loyalty. Lehn, a bookseller south of Kiev, deserts the army and writes poetry to his love back home; Sablin, an adopted Mennonite-Ukrainian stableboy, runs with the anarchists only to discover that love and the planting of crops is preferable to killing; Inna, a beautiful young peasant, tries to stop a Mennonite landowner from stealing her child. In a world of violence, Sablin, Lehn, and Inna learn to love and hate and love again, hoping, against all odds, that one can turn away from the dead. In this beautifully crafted novel, David Bergen takes us to a place where chaos reigns, where answers come from everywhere and nowhere, and where both the beauty and horror of humanity are on full display.

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