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The Big Green Tent
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2017 Book Discussions > The Big Green Tent - Prologue to The Dragnet, Some Spoilers Allowed (February 2017)

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message 1: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 452 comments This topic covers (approximately) the first half of the book. Spoilers are permitted, but only for events described in these chapters.

What were your initial impressions? How did they change as you progressed further into the book?


Nutmegger Linda (lindanutmegger) | 103 comments I'm usually pretty good at following multiple character presentations, but this one is really a challenge. Anyone else feeling a bit overwhelmed?


Kathleen | 279 comments Linda wrote: "I'm usually pretty good at following multiple character presentations, but this one is really a challenge. Anyone else feeling a bit overwhelmed?"

Yes! But I'm not usually good at following them. :-) I had this same problem with Tolstoy, and I found that spending a long time with the first chapter, and making a list of characters did the trick. So far I think it worked. I'm reading along comfortably now in chapter two.


Nutmegger Linda (lindanutmegger) | 103 comments Kathleen wrote: "Linda wrote: "I'm usually pretty good at following multiple character presentations, but this one is really a challenge. Anyone else feeling a bit overwhelmed?"

Yes! But I'm not usually good at fo..."


I've finished the book and did finally get all of the connections, but it wasn't easy. The author drops little points of interest about many characters and then refers back to them much further on in the book. All in all I enjoyed it.


Nutmegger Linda (lindanutmegger) | 103 comments The bbook flap in my copy says the story follows male friends through their lives but I thought it could have easily been about the female characters, since they are all intertwined.


message 6: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 452 comments I didn't end up sweating the names, other than the 3 male friends (whom I thought I was supposed to be able to differentiate), but a more organized reader might want to keep a short list of initial references, etc. for reference.

The author repeatedly signals coming disaster for certain characters. The first time I encountered it, I worried for pages what disaster would occur. Then, I realized, it could be 200 pages or more before the foreshadowed event occurs, so why let it impede my enjoyment? As a technique, the reference to future tragedies did serve to create some suspense. On the other hand, I'm reading about Russia. Of course, bad things will occur to our characters.


message 7: by Sarah (new) - added it

Sarah | 70 comments The first 100 pages or so of TBGT resonated with me because of the questions, theories, and character actions pertaining to the moral development of the Trianon. As a retired teacher/school psychologist, these are issues that my students and I grappled with and pondered. After that, I am struggling to make all the connections with the characters and get confused with the Russian names. Guess I appreciate closure that is more linear in nature.


message 8: by Sarah (new) - added it

Sarah | 70 comments Linda wrote: "The bbook flap in my copy says the story follows male friends through their lives but I thought it could have easily been about the female characters, since they are all intertwined."
I agree. Once the 3 female friends were introduced, I felt they could have been a trio of equal significance to the Trianon.


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2354 comments I am just ready to start The Dragnet chapter so thought it best to weigh in here before proceeding. I found it interesting that the book starts with the three girls and then they disappear except for a brief appearance at a party by two of them. Then we are introduced to the boys and get to see their lives intertwine through their school years and slightly beyond. Then it is back to Olga, who I remember as one of the three girls. We get a lot of her story, even her death, but then we return to later first through Tamara and then Gayla. And the lives of the girls cross with Ilya directly and indirectly with the Sanya. To my mind, this first half is as much, if not more, the girls story than the boys. As we hit the halfway point, it seems we've lost one girl and one boy. How will the lives of the other four play out?

And it is absolutely true, as Carol notes, that the author signals things that will happen in the future. I'm not sure I like that, especially in this book that is far from chronological, but now I'm now looking for the foretelling! I want to know what book Liza was able to carry out.

I am enjoying the book. I wish I was more familiar with the composers and their works but it is interesting how, at least to date, the musicians seem least targeted by the authorities.

So far I've been able to keep the characters straight without a list.


Michelle (topaz6) Shaping up to be a fantastic book, I'm 2/3 of the way through. I feel like Olga is the books main character if there is any one character that could hold that title.

People seem to be talking about a character list - what I want more than anything is a book and author list!


Kathleen | 279 comments Michelle wrote: "Shaping up to be a fantastic book, I'm 2/3 of the way through. I feel like Olga is the books main character if there is any one character that could hold that title.

People seem to be talking abou..."


That's an excellent idea, Michelle!


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2354 comments Michelle wrote: "Shaping up to be a fantastic book, I'm 2/3 of the way through. I feel like Olga is the books main character if there is any one character that could hold that title. "

I felt sort of that way at that point too. I think it will make a good discussion point for the full book.


Kathleen | 279 comments I just finished The Dragnet chapter, and while I agree that things are revolving around Olga, and that it could have just as easily been about the three females, Ilya is at the heart of it for me.

The slow buildup of the boys’ background at the beginning cemented them for me as characters to care about. I felt the way the girls’ background was filled in after they were introduced, in what felt like a hasty manner, made me care about them a little less.

So Ilya is still the center for me, and I am anxious to hear more about Sanya and Mikha. All of this has been gripping though! I'm loving this book.


message 14: by Sarah (new) - added it

Sarah | 70 comments Kathleen wrote: "I just finished The Dragnet chapter, and while I agree that things are revolving around Olga, and that it could have just as easily been about the three females, Ilya is at the heart of it for me. ..."

The NYT reviewer Lara Vapnyar's tree metaphor makes sense to me.

"In its structure, “The Big Green Tent” resembles a tree: After a brief prologue, six straightforward chapters form a trunk, and the rest of the novel branches out in different directions. The “trunk” describes the formative years of the central characters, three best friends named Ilya, Mikha and Sanya. "


Amanda (tnbooklover) I'm listening to the audio and while I am really liking it I'm struggling with all the characters. This tends to be an ongoing issue for me in Russian literature. I always seem to trip over the names.

Is anyone else listening to audio?


Michelle (topaz6) I have a big theory that Ulitskaya doesn't quite know how translation works. I'm a translation student, so hearing a character say "I know a bit of Spanish, so I'm doing professional interpretation for the government" (a scene that does happen) makes me gape a little. There are also times where a translator will say "this poem is untranslatable", which is not something that happens.

This is a very minor complaint of mine, but what do you guys think?


Caroline (cedickie) | 384 comments Mod
I've just finished the first half of the book and am really enjoying it so far. At first, the numerous characters and jumping around made me confused - I wasn't quite sure where the story was taking me. And, as others have mentioned, the book seems to be almost as much about Olga and her friends as it is about the three boys.

Once I let go of keeping track of everything, I really started loving the book and all the side stories. I especially loved the image of the teenager taking her stepfather's money, buying boots with it, and then using the onionskin pages of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956 manuscript to maintain their form. I've thought of that scene any time the manuscript comes up anywhere in the book.

Some of my favorite courses in college were the Russian history, literature, and theater classes I was able to take. It's been a long time, but it's fun returning to that literary space. Also, the chapters focusing on Olga and her friends sort of remind me of Elena Ferrante's The Neapolitan Novels, which were among my favorite books read last year.


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