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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Sisters of the Cross

Alexei Remizov

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To purchase Sisters of the Cross

Title: Sisters of the Cross
Author: Alexei Remizov
Genre: Novel
Written: 1910 (Eng. 2017)
Length: 181 pages
Original in: Russian
Availability: Sisters of the Cross - US
Sisters of the Cross - UK
Sisters of the Cross - Canada
Sisters of the Cross - India
Sœurs en croix - France
Schwestern im Kreuz - Deutschland
  • Russian title: Крестовые сестры
  • Translated by Roger Keys and Brian Murphy
  • With an Introduction by by Roger Keys

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Our Assessment:

B : solid, but bleak

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
TLS . 11/1/2019 Bryan Karetnyk

  From the Reviews:
  • "This litany of unremitting cruelties is related with an intensity of pain and realism that is assuaged only by Remizovís digressive, carnivalesque style. Sisters of the Cross freely blends the symbolic with the explicit, the arcane with the colloquial, and the spiritual with the profane, depicting life in all its irrationality and absurdity. (...) Remizov presses a modernist grotesque style into the service of a thematic repertoire that recalls the bleakest of Dostoevsky, prompting the question of what, if anything, is redemptive in his writing." - Bryan Karetnyk, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Sisters of the Cross begins with Piotr Alekseevich Marakulin gainfully employed issuing payment slips at a big Petersburg company, and then losing his job because of the accounts not quite matching. Marakulin doesn't seem to be at fault, but he's the one who takes the fall -- and finds himself, after five years at his job, practically unemployable, the reason for his dismissal a millstone and brand that keep any prospective employer from taking a chance on him.
       After going through his savings, and selling most of what he owns, Marakulin finds himself down and out -- and reduced to taking a room in Burkov House. The large building, housing rich and poor, is a microcosm: "Burkov House is the whole of Petersburg".
       Marakulin continues to struggle, but more less gets by (for a while, at least ...), but the novel then focuses as much on the people around him, and their own stories, past and present, and their effect on Marakulin. The cook Akumovna is a steady presence, while others come and go. Most of the focus is on several women -- or girls -- who spend some time in Burkov House, specifically three that are named Vera.
       The women are generally ambitious, still looking forward to possible careers and achievement -- studying, or trying to get a foothold in jobs, whether as household help, teacher, or on the stage. Often, they have been -- or are -- taken advantage of sexually (about which Remizov is almost astonishingly frank) or otherwise, their pasts -- and some presents -- tragic. Almost comically so, at times, as in the country girl who upon her arrival in the big city is immediately taken in by a couple as a nanny, only to find that the stately home they took her to that first night was simply a hotel (the likes of which she had, of course, never seem), giving the man an opportunity to have his way with her and then disappear before she even knew what was going on.
       The Burkov House community is, in many ways, like a huge family. Connections are made and lost, and fates take dramatic turns. Marakulin pines and plans, but rarely finds satisfaction; eventually, he is part of larger group's dream to head to Paris -- absolutely certain that he can raise a thousand rubles to pave the way (only, of course, to wind up disappointed).
       Fates are signaled in the small and everyday, too; misfortune isn't simple but often quickly magnified:

     Just before Christmas Marakulin's cross got broken. Anna Stepanova took it to get mended, and she went from the high school to the shops at Gostiny Dvor. There her purse was stolen and Marakulin's cross went with it -- a little baptismal cross made of gold.
       Remizov's sketches and episodes offer a vividly drawn good cross-section of Russian life at the beginning of the twentieth century. There's humor to many of the situations as well, including sometimes downright comic scenes -- but, as in one near the end featuring a desperate Akumovna, often quickly followed by grimmest tragedy (here, with the somewhat sudden and certainly shocking ending).
       A solid, if ultimately wrenchingly bleak work.

- M.A.Orthofer, 14 January 2018

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Sisters of the Cross: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Russian author Alexei Remizov (Алексей Михайлович Ремизов) lived 1877 to 1957.

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© 2018-2021 the complete review

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