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megustaleer

The House on the Dvina: A Russian Childhood

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This was an unexpected delight, picked up in desperation from the scant collection of audiobooks in the village library as I didn’t want a romance, nor another mystery.

Eugenie Fraser was the daughter of an unlikely marriage, in the early years of the twentieth century, between a  Scottish man and a Russian girl. She spent her formative years, approximately aged five to fourteen, living in the home of her  Russian grandparents in an imposing house on the banks of the Dvina river in Archangel, in the north west of Russia.

 The history of her Russian family is as romantic as any you would find in fiction,
Her great -grandfather, on a business trip in some distant part of Russia fell in love with a serf, bought her from the family who owned her, married her and took his peasant bride home to his astounded and appalled bourgoise family.
Eugenia’s grandmother, the feisty daughter of this marriage,  when told that Tsar Alexander II would, at Christmas, release 8 prisoners from internment if a family member would intercede for them in person, travelled across Russia by sledge  in the depths of winter to plead for the release of her husband.


Eugenie's parents met when her father was on business in Scotland, and they had to have two weddings, as only a Russian Orthodox wedding would be recognised in Russia. Their first child, Eugenie was sent to live with her grandparents in Archangel as she was to go to school there.

Eugenie’s life in a well off middle-class Russian household was one of contrasts.. The house was full of beautiful things, the hospitality was bountiful, with extended family, friends and strangers being entertained sometimes for lengthy periods. Their daily life was full of tradition and ritual, much of which featured specific  times of day when the family gathered around the samovar for tea and conversation. At the same time, facilities were a bit basic, there was no piped water to the hose, every drop had to be brought in by their servants, and stored in containers. Sanitary arrangements were outside, and primitive.

To travel anywhere away from Archangel meant crossing the river, which was done by ferry during the short summer season. The river froze solid at the end of October, and was crossed by sledge during the long dark arctic winters - but crossing in and around October itself was best avoided, as until the ice was solid the only way to cross was by rowing boat, fending off the floes that formed before the ice reached from shore to shore.

With the events of 1914 to 1920  - the war with Germany, the period between the revolutions  (which Eugenie calls the civil war) the murder of the Tsar, and the withdrawal of the Allied Intervention in the north - the country fell apart, and the comforts of family life were gradually eroded. They experienced increasing hunger, deprivation and fear, and many friends and family members died by execution, torture, starvation or just disappeared.
Eugenie and her mother managed to escape to Scotland, but had to leave beloved family behind . Her memories of this period are bitter, but this shouldn’t put any one off from reading what is a fascinating book.

 


As events in Crimea began to unfold in the last few weeks my attention was particularly caught by a comment she made about the way Lenin annexed territories into the Russian Federation.

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That book sounds  a perfect TBR,meg, thank you for the review. I realise they encounter dire events in the war, but hopefully there is no too much graphic description. Please could you let me know if it is moderate?

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That book sounds  a perfect TBR,meg, thank you for the review. I realise they encounter dire events in the war, but hopefully there is no too much graphic description. Please could you let me know if it is moderate?

I don't recall anything particularly graphic, although I can't check as it went back to the library last week.

Eugenie did not experience imprisonment or torture personally, nor see these things happening, so there isn't an detail of that kind.

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I read this while we were still living in the UK - more than 2O years ago, so my recollection of details is a bit vague but I don't remember anything "unpleasant".  Tension when they were trying to escape, yes, detaails no.  As Meg said this is a lovely book, I wish I still had my copy.

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