As I read over some of the reviews, I am wondering if we're all reading the same book. That one person said there was too much detail may have never researched eras before good records and computers were developed. (I myself spent over 2 yrs. researching my father's experiences as a POW in WWII and everything I could extract was excruciating: confusing, twisted, contradicting and time-consuming.)
It was the wealth of precious detail that made the story come alive in "Lina and Serge" and put us in the front row. We are so lucky Mr. Morrison not only had access to valuable material but that he could put it together in such a coherent and flowing manner. When he would make a bit of an aside, instead of leaving it there, he would fill in a bit of background enough to satisfy one's curiosity then get right back on track. No long disconnected tangents to needlessly disrupt the train of thought. I thought it very tightly constructed with nothing superfluous. It is a fugue of sorts, many different themes and ideas engage each other, at least they did for me, in my head.
I myself was engulfed by the story. I was on my laptop at the same time, looking at the character's images and their surroundings so I could envision them even more. I looked up the gulag near the Arctic Circle that took Lina four days to reach by train. I felt I was there with Lina: her frustrations were palatable and her fears almost too much to bear. I know I couldn't have survived what she did. I have my own troubles these days and I have infinitely more than she did, I am luckier than her in so many ways. It frightened me to the core imagining myself in her shoes (and the millions of others destroyed by the war and the Soviet regime).
It is disturbing to feel you haven't much control over what goes on in your life and yet this story puts my life in perspective within that same flow of history. It's painful to look back and see how you could have done better, how we could have thought more for ourselves, instead of going along with the crowd, heeding our intuition. Lina was all too human in this regard, to her demise. But when you're in a situation you get thoughtlessly caught up, - it's easy ignore all the little signs because you don't want to believe the worse, what they might signify, how every interaction can affect others in the smallest of ways. This doesn't get you off the hook however.
And while I wanted to close the book because it was too close for comfort, I read it straight through. I couldn't put it down, I couldn't look away. I didn't feel superior to her in any way, only luckier and more grateful. Yes, it made me feel vulnerable and uncomfortable and I felt engrossed. I felt it as they were devastatingly swept away into a world not of their making or their wildest nightmares. They are no different than any of us and we are all susceptible to the forces they succumbed to.
The older I get, the more it becomes so incomprehensible what we do to one another and I think Morrison's work lays this directly at our feet, telling us quietly in an underlying fugue to "Take a moment, wake up, just look." while telling us a fabulous story. Did Lina ever consider, I wonder, as she was being tortured, her own feelings about Jews? Maybe that is one message from this book, to see our own behavior in context, - to see how our behavior dovetails into those who commit atrocities, how we contribute to that mindset. People who commit terrible acts are not "out there", they are us. What is important after all, what are we leaving in our wake in our everyday lives?
I thought of other women of Lina's era, Simone de Beauvoir and Frida Kahlo, two very powerful and talented women who also had to deal with great men as Lina did with Serge. I don't know that "great" men want equally strong women around in the end, those with their own need, talent and determination. And these men...how great were they that created such despair and pain around them?
And in his position, how do you deal with a mate who might just not be all that talented? Do you use them, shun them, do you run from them, do you try to help them and does that embarrass you? Prokofiev dealt with all of that. What kind of a man was he that he thought his youngest child would forget about him when he disappeared?
I do know from personal experience that a man (and woman) is not his music. His music can be of the spheres and he can be a louse. His music can be, well, not so good, but he can be a hell of a person. We can look back and regret but we must keep moving forward and learn from these mistakes and see we are all more alike than we are different. That is what I got from this book and I look forward to reading his other work.
If you liked this book, other favorites of mine are "Sophie's Choice", fiction by William Styron, "The Liberation Triology", non-fiction by Rick Atkinson (both if you're interested in WWII) and "Genius of Place: The Life of Frederick Law Olmsted", non-fiction, by Justin Martin (if you like the turn-of-the-century era).