Passport magazine: Russian lifestyle
Home Archive April 2009

About Us

From the Publisher

Contact Us

Current IssueArchive
Restaurant GuideRestaurant ReviewsInternational Food BlogsWine TastingsTravelMoscow EmbassiesAirlines to RussiaMoscow AirportsCustoms and VisasResidence permitMoscow Phone DirectoryMuseums and GalleriesWi-Fi Hot Spots in MoscowClubs!Community ListingsMoscow Downtown MapMoscow Metro MapRussian LinksInternational Links
Advertise with Us
Our Readers - a profileAdvertising RatesDistribution List
Click for Moscow, Russia Forecast
Our Partners
Knights of the Vine RUSSIA


Book Review
Text Claire Masden

Andrei Sinyavsky
Ivan the Fool in Russian Folk Belief

topia - a land where the credit crunch does not exist, a place where the homeless are as happy as the oligarchs and your friends possess the powers to protect and provide. This is of course nonsense: the stuff of fairy tales and my main problem with Kate Furnivall’s novel, Under a Blood Red Sky. Furnivall weaves the plot of two women: Sofia and Anna, who befriend one another in the Davinsky Labour Camp in Siberia 1933. It’s a compelling read with Furnivall leading us from the horrors of the camp, back to the turbulence of 1917 St. Petersburg before returning to 1933 and the starving but resilient village of Tivil. Despite horrific conditions, the violent deaths and the insatiable iron hold of communism; we laugh out loud at the observations and comments of some of the more colorful characters and appreciate the haunting beauty of the Russian countryside. However, I was not satisfied; everything seemed to slot together too easily, their lives intertwined too unrealistically and the magic of some; too fanciful for the gritty nature of the story. The golden protagonists lost all credibility as they deceived death time and time again and, without giving away the ending, found the Holy Grail they’d been searching for. How could such magic work alongside this historical, if romantic account of Stalin’s Russia? It shouldn’t. Then I started Ivan the Fool.

Ivan the Fool is Andrei Sinyavsky’s study into the cultural history of Russia and its folk tales. It delves deep into the art of story telling in Russia and looks at how, thankfully, this art form has not diminished but continues to flourish and adapt to the rigors of modern life. Sinyavsky is an acclaimed satirical novelist and literary critic who emigrated to France in 1973 after his incarceration in a Soviet Labour camp.

The opening chapters automatically made me think of Under a Blood Red Sky. The importance and beauty of gold and therefore the presence of golden haired princesses or warrior tsarinas in folk tales so closely resembled Furnivall’s Sophia. A character who uses her beauty, inner strength and magical powers to survive the camps, complete her lengthy, hazardous journey to Tivil, outwit party chairmen and bewitch men, boys and party secretaries alike. The presence of dogs and cats throughout this story could also be linked to the talking animals of Russian folk lore.

Under a Blood Red Sky
Kate Furnivall

However it is the character Rafik who interests me the most. Being the seventh son of the seventh son he possesses an ancient gypsy power to manipulate minds. Although using this power, he is sentencing himself to an agonising death, he continues to do so in order to save and protect the starving village. He and his three friends: the giant blacksmith, the stern school mistress and the unlikely hero; Chairman Fomenko work together under the cloak of darkness to aid the escape of political prisoners. They hide such unfortunates in secret chambers and deliver messages via a hidden hut in the forest. They use chants, symbols and the gypsy’s ability to fool the soldiers.

This and Rafik’s relationship with and protection of the foolish and outspoken priest and his talk of the “old beliefs” runs parallel with Sinyavsky’s later discussions on the schism and the religious sects. We learn of the disturbing stories of self burial which were evident in 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. We see its influence in the hidden chamber in Tivil, the terrifying hours in which the young hero, Pyotr is trapped under the floor of the former church and and then again in Rafik’s room in which Sofia first awakes. It was “like no room she had ever seen.” It was painted a midnight blue covered with stars and “a pale ethereal moon” in each corner and in the centre of the ceiling “lay a huge painted eye.” More disturbing for the claustrophobic fugitive is the fact that this room had no windows and in fact it was more like a cellar or a prison.

After reading Ivan the Fool I had to return to Under a Blood Red Sky. Sinyavsky opens our eyes to the theory, formulaic nature and beauty of the Russian folk tale and Furnivall uses their influence in her tale of love and courage in Stalin’s Russia.

“Good triumphs not only in heaven, but also on earth, usually by magic means. Magic here is an expression of divine truth, divine will and divine justice. Sometimes divine justice is done without magic, as if by chance, as, say, when the heroes cast lots to decide who shall take which road, or shoot arrows into the air to decide who shall get which bride . . .”

Is it divine justice that in a moment of epiphany Sofia realises “that the life she’d been pretending she and Mikhail could lead elsewhere was never destined to happen?”

Utopia may not be something we experience but a little escapism into the land of fairy tales and the magic belief that the dispossessed can overcome the powers that be, is surely not such a bad thing is it?

Under a Blood Red Sky by Kate Furnivall available from  

Ivan the Fool The Study of Russian Folk Belief by Andrei Sinyavsky published by Glas.

 Copyright 2004-2012 +7 (495) 640 0508,,
website development – Telemark
OnLine M&A Russia Deal Book
Follow Us