The People’s Act of Love by James Meek - review by James Morrison

James Morrison

A Menace In Their Midst

The People’s Act of Love


Canongate 391pp £12.99

Prizewinning journalist James Meek’s latest novel is a layered, often deeply macabre book that combines the epic sweep of a Russian classic with the psychological precision of the keenest suspense thriller.

Set in the icy wastes of Siberia, two years on from the October revolution, The People’s Act of Love explores the tensions of an isolated limbo world in which two curious communities subsist in uneasy proximity. One is a bizarre Christian sect led by a Tsarist deserter, Balashov, who has castrated himself and his followers in the belief that, by throwing away ‘the Devil’s keys’, he is turning them into angels. The other is a ragtag band of war-weary Czech soldiers, whose despotic commander, Matula, has buried an order to return his troops home in the hope of establishing dominion over this remote and barren refuge.

Living, half ignored, half reviled, in their midst is a beautiful young widow, Anna Petrovna, and her son, whom she is struggling to protect from the dark secret that binds her to this neglected outpost. Regarded as an object of desire by many of the soldiers and as a godless

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