4 out of 4 stars
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As the son of a Lithuanian serf at the close of the 19th century, young Povilas Glemza dreams of breaking away from serfdom and building a new life for himself by working in a Russian factory. His father seeks aid from a local lord, who paves the way for Povilas to study engineering in St. Petersburg, the first step toward self-sufficiency. But Povilas soon finds that factory life is not quite what he thought it would be, and it isn't long before he starts rethinking his plans. With the world on the cusp of the Russo-Japanese war, he will find himself on the front lines if he isn’t careful.
Escape from the Czar, written by Paula Bilyieu Velho, is a novella that depicts a partly fictional rendition of the author’s grandfather’s life, from his early youth to his mid-thirties. As a girl, the author never met her grandfather and knew very little about his life but always admired a portrait of him, which the family kept and displayed in their living room. Later in life, she discovered a sixty-year-old magazine featuring an interview with Glemza, whose name had at some point been changed to “Glamzo”. Once the author managed to translate the interview from its original Lithuanian, she discovered her grandfather’s life’s story, which then became the foundation for this book.
As a novella, the book is short, reaching only 89 pages. The writing is simple, with short sentences and approachable vocabulary. This style keeps the action flowing, and at no point did it feel like the story had stalled or reached a lull. I loved how the author managed to weave in relevant historical events to create a world that felt full and rooted in fact, despite having so little raw material from which to work. I enjoyed getting to know Povilas and found myself rooting for his success.
I was a little disappointed by the passive and superficial role of women in the book. All of the women were either depicted as pretty, timid brides-to-be or dutiful wives, who were sometimes argumentative but inevitably bent themselves to their husbands’ wishes. This attitude toward women is probably historically accurate, which is why I cannot deduct a star for it, although it is disappointing to read from a modern perspective.
There are a few veiled references to sex and one instance of somewhat graphic violence. Because of this content, I can’t recommend sharing this book with children. There are brief mentions of religion, but I don’t believe that a non-religious reader would object to them. There is absolutely no profane language. Although I did find a few spelling and grammar errors, the book as a whole feels polished and professional.
Escape from the Czar earns a score of 4 out of 4 for its uplifting story of a young man building a better life amid sociopolitical turmoil. It would most appeal to adult and young adult fans of historical fiction looking for a quick read.
Escape from the Czar
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