Arianna This answer contains spoilers… view spoiler [ Deathless is, fundamentally, a love letter to Russia, and Russian culture and folklore. Its been stated many times, and I believe its a key factor in …more Deathless is, fundamentally, a love letter to Russia, and Russian culture and folklore. What else would you call hell? It was utterly devastated by both the Second World War and communism.
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Arianna This answer contains spoilers… view spoiler [ Deathless is, fundamentally, a love letter to Russia, and Russian culture and folklore. Its been stated many times, and I believe its a key factor in …more Deathless is, fundamentally, a love letter to Russia, and Russian culture and folklore. What else would you call hell? It was utterly devastated by both the Second World War and communism. The war had killed an immense number of people, around 40 million, and left the survivors not much better off than the dead, especially because the economy had been ravaged by the war effort.
Russia also refused the economic aid from the USA through the Marshall Plan, which had the goal of resurrecting European economy, yes, but was chiefly a preventing measure against communism.
The reconstruction focused on industry, leaving agriculture and consumer goods behind: the people had very little means of life, of subsistence. On top of this, there was little to no freedom. One could not step outside the boundaries, could not make the slightest remark against the Soviet or its leader without risking imprisonment.
The Cult of Personality of Stalin was in place: the picture of Stalin was everywhere, keeping people under his gaze from every factory, school and office wall. The Gulag camps were still very much active; the Great Purge had made a great impression, and it was not restricted to the Party; people were on the lookout for potential threats to the government, even inside their own families.
The myth of Pavlik Morozov, the boy who reported his own father to the police for treason, was still fresh in the minds of the people. Artists, writers, poets, historians, scientists even, were repressed and subjected to heavy censorship still, and would be reported to the authorities if they showed any sign of Western influence.
Everything was shielded behind the Iron Curtain. We lost. In the end, between Germany and the wizard with the mustache in Moscow, the one I told them about all those years ago—the two of them ate us alive. The dead overwhelmed us. While we were counting our ration cards, Buyan and Leningrad and Moscow and everything was shriveling and blowing away.
If a novelist wrote a true story about how things really happened, no one would believe him, and he might even be punished for spreading propaganda. Even given a medal by the wizard with the thick mustache. We are all dead. All equal. Broken and aimless and believing we are alive. This is Russia and it is Marya looks about herself, sees old Party posters, and feels old, tired, worn, bitter. Is that why you will not say my name? Are you afraid of him, like a wizard with a mustache? Because if all the world dwells in the Country of the Dead, I should not remember either, and yet I do—though it hurts like starving to do it.
I would never importune the character of your colleague, who tells the tale as powerful ears want to hear it. I would never mince about and pantomime a life full of dressmaking and marriages and a successful butcher shop so as not to be caught committing the crime of remembering that anything existed before this new and righteous regime.
Everything will now be new forever. I am hurt that you look at me and assume such criminal tendencies in a nice babushka with only your best interests at heart. I am so finished with it all. How can I live in this? I want to be held by everyone I have loved and told that it is all forgiven, all done, all made well. Death is not like that. The redistribution of worlds has made everything equal—magic and cantinas and Yelenas and basements and bread and silver, silver light.
Equally dead, equally bound. You will live as you live anywhere. With difficulty, and grief. Yes, you are dead. And I and my family and everyone, always, forever.
All dead, like stones. But what does it matter? You still have to go to work in the morning. You still have to live. That is a resilience of the mind and the heart that Marya, and every person like her, must cultivate secretly in her heart of hearts, never let go of it, but also pretend they never think of the past, of the stories. All dead, like stones, but they still have to go through the motions and live, with difficulty and grief.
Marya Morevna let her breath go. She made her face blank and unreadable. She looked up at her babushka as though she were a stranger—interesting, perhaps: such a face—but no relation of hers. After all, Marya was so good at games. So Marya walks away, to keep her private revolution in her heart and her memories, and to keep her face straight, blank, unreadable.
On another, deeper level, Marya is living in Russia in , and everyone is living, just barely. With difficulty and grief. I hope this was clear enough! If anybody has other interpretations, please come forward. I would love to hear them.
Catherynne M. Valente
Plot[ edit ] Marya Morevna and her sisters live with their upper middle class parents in Saint Petersburg before and during the Russian Revolution. Marya witnesses birds transform into handsome young men who marry her sisters, and meets the council of domovoi or brownies who live in her house along with the other families that get assigned to live there by the Bolsheviks, and cherishes her secret knowledge that magic exists in the world. She also meets an old woman named Likho who teaches her the mythology of the world, and of the Tsars and Tsarinas who rule various aspects of reality such as life, death, salt, night, water, birds and the length of an hour, of which Likho is one: the Tsarina of the Length of an Hour, who commands misfortune and sorrow. In time, Koschei the Deathless, who cannot die because he has cut out his death and hidden it in an egg, comes to marry her and takes her away from wartime Leningrad to the isle of Buyan in the Country of Life where he lives in luxurious splendour. While in Buyan, Marya makes three companions of the magical creatures who live there: a vintovnik or gun-imp named Nastya, a leshi called Zemlya, and a vila called Lebedeva.