Friday, March 29, 2013

Historical Fiction: Stalin's Barber by Paul M. Levitt

Publisher: Taylor Trade
Date: December 16, 2012
Format: hardback
Source: LibraryThing Early Reviewers
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)
Pages: 370
Reading time: five days

From GoodReads: Avraham Bahar leaves debt-ridden and depressed Albania to seek a better life in, ironically, Stalinist Russia. A professional barber, he curries favor with the Communist regime, ultimately being invited to become Stalin s personal barber at the Kremlin, where he is entitled to live in a government house with other Soviet dignitaries. In the intrigue that follows Avraham, now known as Razan, he is not only barber to Stalin but also to the many Stalin look-alikes that the paranoid dictator circulates to thwart possible assassination attempts including one from Razan himself.

My review: I greatly enjoyed Levitt's literary writing. His prose and chose of words is fantastic, which adds to the reading of any book. I also ended up appreciating Levitt's departure from Ravan's story - indeed, at points Ravan seems almost peripheral to the tales of other characters - to explore the lives of others in Ravan's family as they navigate the complexity of Soviet life in the years leading up to WWII. Such a departure opened up the depth of the novel to give a better look at how people lived during that period in the USSR.

At other times, however, the writing got too dense. I wasn't always able to understand the many intrigues surrounding Razan's family and Stalin. And, after a couple hundred pages of nice development, the ending was unsatisfactorily quick and messy. Everything was almost instantly wrapped up, but some questions remained. Overall, Stalin's Barber proved to be a good historical read, but it is perhaps not for the faint of heart (including those with short attention spans).

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