The House of the Dead: Siberian Exile Under the Tsars
The names of Russian literary giants like Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Pushkin, and Solzhenitsyn conjure images of the frozen wasteland of Siberia. In Beer’s descriptions you feel the frostbite. The book should be sold in the frozen-food section of your local grocer. The fact is that most of the heroes within these pages were starving as well as freezing.
Beer begins with an early history of Siberian exile as a form of settlement and colonization in the prelude to the Decembrist Revolt of 1825. From there the pace thickens as noble families find themselves torn asunder by exile and wives are forced to choose between their husbands and their children. Beer pays particular attention to these women who paid an incalculable price: “The Decembrists’ wives did not merely share their husband’s fate; they transformed it.”
Meticulously, Beer highlights the fact that without these women, the Decembrists themselves would probably have faded into obscurity. But because of their voice and influence, the exiles became heroines of the people in their own generation and in those that followed. Against a tyrannical government, “the exile system was only incubating sedition in Siberia.”
Beer tracks the successions of revolts, revolutions, and assassinations through the sequence of decades that follow the Decembrists to their ultimate bloodletting in 1917.