Sunday, December 29, 2013

Reflecting on the Past with Beatrice’s Reflection

Irina Muravyova’s Отражение Беатриче (Beatrice’s Reflection) is a nice example of a book I don’t think of as “my type”—it’s a little crowded and, perhaps paradoxically, leans a bit more toward character study than I usually prefer—but still keeps me reading. Beyond that, the plot itself isn’t particularly unusual: Anna, a lovely music student, marries enigmatic diplomat Sergei after a love-at-first-sight incident in the Moscow Metro. They have some difficult times, there’s an affair with a foreigner, and then a kinda-sorta happy ending from the “deal-with-it” category.

I think it was the temporal setting—the late Stalin era—that made Beatrice’s Reflection work for me. There’s not a lot there that’s particularly unusual, either, like Sergei’s cloudy past and a big holiday bash at the Kremlin that features Stalin himself, but I guess I’m something of a sucker for books (Russian or not) that focus a lot on (dis)trust and suspicion. There’s plenty of those in Beatrice’s Reflection, both positive, through Anna’s close ties with her family, which includes three female cousins, and negative, through distrust of foreigners and, really, just about anyone outside one’s usual circles. Muravyova works in an illegal abortion, what I think I’d call a symbolic heart condition, and a mysterious long trip abroad, too. I should also mention that Beatrice’s Reflection is yet another book featuring Krasnaya Moskva (Red Moscow) perfume… that new tag I added earlier this year continues to come in handy.

My thoughts on Beatrice’s Reflection feel pretty skewed and confused because I read the book earlier this fall, a time when I didn’t finish many books because not much appealed to me. I don’t like writing much here about my personal life but want to say this was a difficult autumn: beyond lots of work, our very beloved elderly cat was very sick. She’s no longer with us but things are returning to normal here at the Bookshelf and the rest of our house, thanks in part to two new adolescent cats who—What a relief!—seem to enjoy translating, blogging, and reading. Or at least lying on the laps of humans who are attempting to translate, blog, or read.

Disclosures: I met Irina Muravyova at Book Expo America in 2012 and enjoyed talking with her so much that I bought several of her books. I’m looking forward to reading more of them now that my head is a little steadier.

Up Next: Favorites from 2012 [oops!] 2013, a year that was all about quality, not quantity. Masha Regina. Really! And Yana Vagner’s Vongozero, a novel about people traveling to the sticks after a nasty virus has wiped out entire cities: sometimes a measured, well-composed disaster novel is the most soothing sort of book.

1 comment:

  1. Sorry about your cat, Lisa. I have an old cat, so I understand how difficult it must have been for you to let her go.

    I liked Отражение Беатриче. I don't think Muravyova is a complex, interesting writer but her books are very easy to read (and forget), the plot moves mostly smoothly, and the stories are interesting. Doesn't she live in Massachusetts? I'd love to hear her talk - let me know if you hear of any events.