Thursday, October 27, 2011

Review: "Angel of Vengeance" by Ana Siljak

From Goodreads:  In the Russian winter of 1878 a shy, aristocratic young woman named Vera Zasulich walked into the office of the governor of St. Petersburg, pulled a revolver from underneath her shawl, and shot General Fedor Trepov point blank.  “Revenge!,” she cried, for the governor's brutal treatment of a political prisoner. Her trial for murder later that year became Russia's "trial of the century," closely followed by people all across Europe and America. On the day of the trial, huge crowds packed the courtroom.  The cream of Russian society, attired in the finery of the day, arrived to witness the theatrical testimony and deliberations in the case of the young angel of vengeance.  After the trial, Vera became a celebrated martyr for all social classes in Russia and became the public face of a burgeoning revolutionary fervor. Dostoyevsky (who attended the trial), Turgenev, Engels, and even Oscar Wilde all wrote about her extraordinary case. Her astonishing acquittal was celebrated across Europe, crowds filled the streets and the decision marked the changing face of Russia. After fleeing to Switzerland, Vera Zasulich became Russia's most famous "terroristka," inspiring a whole generation of Russian and European revolutionaries to embrace violence and martyrdom.  Her influence led to a series of acts that collectively became part of “the age of assassinations.” In the now-forgotten story of Russia's most notorious terrorist, Ana Siljak captures Vera's extraordinary life story--from privileged child of nobility to revolutionary conspirator, from assassin to martyr to socialist icon and saint-- while colorfully evoking the drama of one of the world’s most closely watched trials and a Russia where political celebrities held sway.

My Thoughts:  This was a pretty interesting book.  I picked it up thinking it would be just a biography of Vera Zasulich but it turned out to be a lot more.  In addition to talking about Vera and her infamous crime, the author also delved into the rise of Russian terrorism and the revolutionary movement.  There was a lot of information about what events and ideas led Vera to shoot the governor of St. Petersburg but sometimes I forgot that I was reading a biography because it felt like most of the book was about terrorism in Russia during the 19th century.  I would have liked to read more about Vera's life and less about the various revolutionary movements in general. The book moved between giving background information, Vera's childhood and her trial which was confusing at times.  I also thought it was odd that the author seemed to be praising Vera's actions; in this day and age the word 'terrorist' has a LOT of negative connotations but this book almost praised and/or seemed to agree with the terrorist activity she was describing.  Overall, this was a very informative book. 3 stars.

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