The big issue (as you can see from other reviews) in the narrator. For the first hour or so, until it became familiar, it was distracting and excruciating -- the narration sounded very upper class British, snobbish, bored and just a little bit peeved to be telling the story. Also, there is a sing-song quality to the intonations, and some of the intonation patterns are repeated to the point where familiarity becomes a bit tedious.
Oddly enough, when the narrator does characters, these problems all disappear and the voices sound appropriate for the persons portrayed. But then he switches back to the "narrator" voice, which doesn't sound at all like one of the Karamazovs' neighbors.
These memoirs of Gunter Grass's early years are literary in at least two senses. FIrst, they are presented in a very literary manner. Grass employs lots of rhetorical tricks and fireworks, such as alternating the first and third persons to refer himself, slipping back and forward in time, long and complex sentences,and so on. This sometimes makes for a hard listen and may not be to everyone's taste. Some of the most effective parts of the book are those where he slips into a simpler narrative style and lets the events speak for themselves.
Second, these are memoirs of a literary man, and they contain a lot of allusions and references (sometimes identified, sometimes not) to works of Grass and other german writers. At one point, he refers to a trip to Italy as a journey to the 'land where the lemons blume.' This is a reference to a famous poem by Goethe, which would be very familiar to most German readers but less so to Americans. If you are not fairly familiar with some of Grass's work (at least The Tin Drum) and German literature generally, you will frequently feel (correctly) that you are missing a little something.
This book covers the execution of the Romanovs, the discovery of the real burial site, the extended and contentious process of verifying the identity of the remains, the various Romanov impostors (notably Anna Anderson), and the issues involving the theoretical succession of the czarship among the actual surviving royals. It's an account of what occurs in the wake and backwaters of history after the important historical forces have steamed past.
There are some solid accounts of fascinating historical detective work. There are also extensive descriptions of the disputes and squabbles amongst impassioned and eccentric characters about matters that seem to be of purely symbolic or parochial significance. Who has jurisdiction over the Romanov bones? How should the Anna Anderson samples be DNA tested? Who is properly in line for the nonexistent throne of Russia?
A little of this is fascinating, but more can feel like painful overkill, and I experienced both listening to the book. Stretches feel like being trapped in the middle seat on an airplane with bitterly opposed monomaniacs on either side, grinding their axes and splitting hairs that only they know or care about.
But if you can let those stretches pass, the book is a interesting, if rather slight and peripheral, gloss on russian history and culture.
Report Inappropriate Content