Tuesday, 4 July 2000

Michael Pearce: Dmitri and the Milk Drinkers (1998)

Edition: HarperCollins, 1998
Review number: 535

The first of Michael Pearce's novels I have read is also the beginning of a new series. The setting is late nineteenth century Tsarist Russia, familiar from the great novels and plays of the period. The central character is an ambitious young lawyer, Dmitri Kameron, who is an Examining Magistrate of the district court in the provincial town of Kursk, and has moderately radical leanings.

One day at the court, he is asked by a well off young woman to direct her to the courtyard. Later, it is discovered that Anna Semenovna has gone missing, and that Dmitri was the last person to see her. He is able to work out that she offered to take the place of one of the cartload of prisoners sentenced to transportation to Siberia, and there is no alternative but to set off after her.

There is much of this plot which is reminiscent of Tolstoy's Resurrection, which also involved the pursuit of an innocent woman wrongly sent to Siberia. Pearce's novel is (not surprisingly) far less serious, and is in fact sometimes very funny, though it too has something to say about the injustice and unpleasantness of the system of Siberian exile. Much of the pleasure of the novel comes from the way that it covers the same ground as serious Russian literature, but in a light-hearted way.

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