21st Century Literature discussion

The Big Green Tent
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2017 Book Discussions > The Big Green Tent - Whole Book Discussion, Spoilers Allowed (February 2017)

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message 1: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 448 comments Share your thoughts on the whole book in this thread. Spoilers are appropriate here.


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2299 comments I've finished the book last night but am not ready to do my review. The first thing I had to do was find out who Sanya and Liza were visiting, so I did a Google search - "what poet died on January 28, 1996." And the answer was Joseph Brodsky aka Iosif Alexsandrovich Brodsky, born 24 May 1940, died 28 Jan 1996 in NYC, USA. And then I read his biography at http://www.biography.com/people/josep....

This is another book that demands a soundtrack to play while reading it. I want to hear those pianists and I want to hear those poems.

This was indeed a complex book that was easy to read. The number of historical figures that floated through was amazing - some I know, some I googled. The floating chronology was part of the challenge. At the halfway point, I thought that we had heard Olga's and Ilya's stories but no, there was more to come. Reading this book was a week well spent.


Michelle (topaz6) I quite liked this book! I found some aspects of the authors description of soviet Russia unfamiliar (eg: the characters never go hungry), while others quite familiar (the KGB and the alleged bugged ceilings). Overall, I really liked the characters and how they all affected each other's lives and stories, as well as how they were all affected by Russian and foreign literature.


Amanda (tnbooklover) | 0 comments I haven't quite finished yet but I'm finding the second half to be a bit frustrating. I really liked the beginning with the 3 male friends and their literature teacher but as the book goes on and more and more and more characters get introduced I feel like it lost some of its initial shine (at least for me). I normally really like nonlinear/non chronological stories but to have a character die and then go on to still be a main character just felt weird to me.

I do like all the literary references.


message 5: by Gabby (new)

Gabby | 4 comments Horses


message 6: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 448 comments Gabby wrote: "Horses"

Neigh! @Gabby, you want to post your animal at the "purging" thread, I believe.


Nastasya | 20 comments LindaJ^ wrote: "I've finished the book last night but am not ready to do my review. The first thing I had to do was find out who Sanya and Liza were visiting, so I did a Google search - "what poet died on January ..."

That's great, thank you for that information! It makes a lot of sense given that he was mentioned a few times--and gives an added poignancy to Mikha's death, I feel, as he would probably have loved to meet Brodsky.

I enjoyed this book. I visited Russia briefly in 2000, and I like learning more about it. I'm glad I read it on the Kindle app, so I could make use of the Search function when a minor character made a surprise reappearance. Its scope certainly reminded me of classic Russian novels, but also of Victor Hugo and Charles Dickens, for the attention to detail in order to give a broad picture of an era.

Someone mentioned it being descriptive rather than psychological, but I found it to be a good combination of both. I appreciated the descriptions of desolate little apartments or dachas. I feel that gives further insight into character motivation, although those were illuminated quite plainly anyway. There was hardly a character who escaped analysis--Ulitskaya even mentions the feelings of Mikha's interrogators--and for me that makes this book a bit of a treat. My favourite little stories were probably the formidable Marina with her husky dog, and Ilya Jr.'s unexpectedly happy ending.


Franky | 101 comments Amanda wrote: "I haven't quite finished yet but I'm finding the second half to be a bit frustrating. I really liked the beginning with the 3 male friends and their literature teacher but as the book goes on and m..."

This is exactly how I felt, too. This book literally just lost every ounce of momentum it had in the first 120 pages or so. Then, there were too many minor characters that were focused on, and the jumping back to the past really threw me for a loop.


Kathleen | 254 comments Franky wrote: "Amanda wrote: "I haven't quite finished yet but I'm finding the second half to be a bit frustrating. I really liked the beginning with the 3 male friends and their literature teacher but as the boo..."

I felt like this too at the halfway point, but after that it got better for me. It was like it spun out of control and came apart, and then kept spinning and knit itself back together.

Now I'm in the last 100 pages and it's more like the beginning and I'm having trouble putting it down.


message 10: by Marc (new) - rated it 4 stars

Marc (monkeelino) | 2572 comments Mod
Parts of this were almost like the reverse of those biblical lists ("... then X begat Y, and Y begat Z, and... ). We start with the current generation and then move back through their family connections only to find that many from one or two generations back are gone having been disappeared, exiled, or killed in war. Felt like two opposing flows or energies: 1) the State's effort to control and suppress vs., 2) individual efforts to create, persist, and preserve culture/family.

Ulitskaya spreads out these sprinklings of connections so the whole web is almost invisible.


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2299 comments Excellent insight Mark. I hadn't looked at it that way but it's true.


message 12: by Marc (new) - rated it 4 stars

Marc (monkeelino) | 2572 comments Mod
I was admittedly biased because I started keeping a character list after about 100 pages. I expected that to detract from my reading experience, but it actually created a kind of map of the novel that enriched the experience. I still struggled with Russians calling the same person by 6 different names.

I do think the heart of the book is in the individual tales and experiences. They combine to make a greater whole, but without them, the book would just be a kind of non-chronological chronology.

I think in one of our threads someone commented about how specific the focus was in terms of characters being mostly artists/intellectuals. These, of course, would have been primary targets of State surveillance, but does this make the book skewed toward the elites so to speak? It's not that there's anything wrong with the book focusing on such a narrow subset--I'm only mentioning it because it might make us pause before extending its portrayal as being representative of most Russians during that time period. I suppose what I'm asking is whether being an artist/intellectual ultimately made things better, worse, or just different under the existing power structure?


Kathleen | 254 comments I finished and just loved it. I found it full of wisdom and humanity, which I really like in a book, especially one that requires a bit of work as this one did.

A big thank you to Marc for sharing that exhaustive character list. I gave up adding to mine half way through, and found yours helpful from time to time toward the end.

I ended up loving the structure. It allowed the characters to live on after their deaths in a way I haven't experienced in a novel before.

So happy I read this.


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