Lead Review

  • Book: Exit Rostov
  • Location: Rostov on Don, Russia
  • Author: Henry Virgin

Review Author: Tina Hartas



It is fiction but it offers a sumptuous level of history and culture as the story bowls along. In essence, Frederick is searching for his friend Cazimir, who has gone missing, and he travels down from Moscow to Rostov-on-Don, where he takes up a position teaching English. This allows him the time to investigate the disappearance. Rostov-on-Don is in Southern Russia in Yaroslavl Oblast.

The construct of the book is interesting. It is a small format book measuring 17.5 x 11 x 3.5cm. It comprises an almalgam of different storytelling devices – at the heart is Frederick’s story, with snapshots from Caz’s diary entries, interspersed by gouache and watercolour sketches (reminiscent of the Expressionists), together with photos of locale to heighten the sense of place. All these are, I gather, executed by the author. There are detailed maps as he moves around the country and from place to place, and all serve to break up the narrative. it is quite a Brechtian experience, as the dialogue is often curt and short, an image will break the flow and then the shift of pace changes.

It is a very small but thick book, which is beautifully presented. However, I am not into spine cracking but in order to be able to read right into the heart of the page joins, you have to pull the book hard apart with a yank at every turn of the page. This takes constant effort throughout the reading process, which is a bit wearing on the biceps and thumb joints; the book may be small but it sure is heavy to hold. The spine of the book is so resilient that the covers curve, but the spine remains unbending. Generally, this makes the experience overall feel like a dense encounter with words, and perhaps underlines why the majority of books on sale are of a certain, uniform size. This is a great size, though, for popping in your pocket. Overall it’s good and worth picking up if you want to get a good sense of Russia and its ways from a very personal perspective.

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