Rating: 4 out of 5
Reviewed by Scott Stampfli
The Road of Bones — a Journey to the Dark Heart of Russia by Jeremy Poolman is not light reading, or pool side material or to be digested when one is feeling depressed or suicidal, yet it is well written and quite revealing.
The book chronicles the history of the Vladimirka Road which, until recently (most of the original route has been replaced by modern super highway, although the eastern end still exists mostly as it did in the 1800s ), ran from a suspect's verdict in Moscow all the way to the ultimate punishment in Siberia.
The author uses vignettes illustrating personal stories of the damned who were forced (both by powerful Czars and then Soviet strongmen) to walk and later ride the bleak road, stretching across the Russian heartland and ending literally in the middle of nowhere. The people destined for the road were arrested while eating dinner, or during a walk in the park or just mysteriously ‘taken’. They included political dissidents, scholars, artists, Muslims, gypsies, Jews, or simply unfortunate souls, snatched away and condemned to the road leading to exile in the frozen tundra where only howling wolves prosper (hungry wolves are a constant refrain in this text).
Poolman also makes strong commentary exposing Stalin’s sociopathic personality, and gives a glimpse into post-Soviet political corruption, broken down urban destruction, wide-spread alcohol abuse, as well as the strength of the Russian spirit for survival. This book is a lament for the dead. It reads like a sorrowful elegy for those sentenced to suffering, in most cases, a lonely death in the Gulag.
Scott Stampfli is an LP staffer in our Oakland office.
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