This book by Elena Kolyadina hardly received great support when this blog did a survey of contemporary Russian novels for translation, and it was also being remaindered during my recent trip to Ukraine.
It appears to start in December 1674, when our heroine Feodosia is 15 and ready to be married off and to end in October 1673, when she is 17 and her son born half-way through the book is able to run around and beg for money.
There are many things it might be, but none of them for very long. The shadow of Thomas Mann’s Holy Sinner grows now lighter, now darker, and at times Kolyadina seems to engaged in a yacht race with Vodolzakins’s Laurus. A yacht race because the leader ixs supposed to imitate the follower’s manoeuvrings.
At times it seems to be one of those books where a modern miss is plonked down with her insatiable curiosity in ancient times and at others it’s one of those books with detailed retro-porn description of life in Old Russia. Indeed, we get a detailed description of the old-time salt industry, just like in Perm. The contrast between carefree pagan sexuality and the strictures of the church might have been going somewhere and then wasn’t. Similarly the un-modern way Feodosia related to her family members just disappeared, leaving behind the usual YA heroine. And then in a reference to Jan Potocki or perhaps Tolkien we have an entire community living under the ground brought into being.
A plot summary with SPOILER ALERT makes it sound as though the traditional saint’s life is being referenced. It is 1673 in Tot’ma. Feodosia is the intelligent beautiful etc etc daughter of wealthy salt-manufacturer Izvara due to be married off to another salt-manufacturer Yuda. The priest Father Loggin feels himself tormented by her youth beauty intelligence needlework etc.
A company of travelling players comes to town under the leadership of one Istoma, who is not much like a salt manufacturer. The climax of their show is a puppetry version of the Crucifixion, except that Feodosia rescues Jesus from the cross, and Father Loggin takes exception.
Istoma and Feodosia enjoy a night of secret love in Feodosia’s bedroom, then Istoma’s troupe gets into a fight with the followers of her brother Putila as he returns from dealings in Moscow. Revealed to be a confederate of Stenka Razin, Istoma is burned alive. Feodosia marries the salt-manufacturer and devotes herself to her son by Istoma.
Influenced by Father Loggin, she practises more and more severe self-denial, including clitoridectomy and saying that like Abraham she would give up her son for God. The son disappears and Feodosia takes up the lifestyle of a yurodivaya, eventually quitting town for the other side of the river. There she discovers a community of underground pagans who can speak Russian when necessary and tries to convert them to Orthodoxy, planting a cross of flowers for this purpose. She also entertains Death in a scene that owes much to Monty Python.
Father Loggin crosses the river to inspect this miraculous and has her burned as a witch so as to further his ambitions for preferment.
But Death does not have Feodosia on her list.