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With probing psychological depth, master storyteller, John Spiess, presents an intimate portrait of the migration of certain eighteenth century Germans to the lower Volga River region of Russian. Catherine the Great, the Russian monarch, had offered free land to the dispossessed of Germany after the Seven Years War; and these people-peasants, convicts, ladies of the night, army deserters, the generally disenfranchised-journeyed to their new homes, believing in the promised heaps of gold at the end of the rainbow. The author admits, however, that theirs "was a story of lies, treachery, broken promises, double-dealing, backstabbing, violence, killing, lust, and premature death froom diseases, overwork and stress." Further, "those years of the 1760s for the Volga Germans were as bloody as anything in the blood drenched American west in the 1860s and '70s. Those Germans had their own version of wild Indians burning down their villages and slaughtering people in wholesale lots, the Kirghiz tribes" of the vast steppe region of southern Russia. Indeed, for sheer fervency of detail and sizzle of harsh reality, the story "would probably be given an X rating if it were told in movie form." You are transported imaginatively, all but bodily, into the wolf-circling blizzards, the gore-blasting tribal raids, the rollicking bawdy and intrigue of Catherine's royal court, the heartbreak of drought and pestilence set against a people's gritty struggle to survive and all through the perspective of the shoot-first-and ask-questions-later peasant mind. Indeed, experiencing the world view of such vitally alive individual characters is a treasure worth possessing, a mind-expanding event. If one definition of fine literature is the creation of a world apart, a place so unique and special that it seems a universe unto itself, then this epic work takes its place among the great achievements of the literary mind.
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