Friday, March 21, 2008

Moscow monster manual

This month, Ed Park's column in the LA Times concerns Ekaterina Sedia's delightfully appealing-sounding The Secret History of Moscow:
After "American," the most overused but irresistible prefix for titles might be "The Secret History of." Unscientific trend-spotters (me) attribute the popularity of this modern-day usage to Donna Tartt's 1992 novel, "The Secret History." Now bushels of articles and books promise to reveal secret histories of disco, the Beatles, Paris, the potato, emotion, various wars, myriad subcultures. (If someone writes a biography of Tartt, it should be called "The Secret History of 'The Secret History.'")

Nonfiction dominates the secret history of "The Secret History of" titles, but Ekaterina Sedia's "The Secret History of Moscow" (Prime Books: 304 pp., $12.95 paper) really feels like a secret: an alternative world a half-dimension removed from ours, a place woven out of whisper and shadow, populated with forgotten creatures and even less-remembered thoughts. It's a satisfying quest novel not only because of the story line (which has the appealingly rambling feel of a good Dungeons & Dragons campaign, in which chance encounters and improvised alliances modulate the narrative) but also for the way the Escher-ready landscape reflects the fragile psychology of Sedia's main character, Galina.

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