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Angel on the Square

This was the really interesting story of a girl who belonged to the Russian aristocracy during World War I. I love books like these, because you read about the events of the time in history books, but they never give you a personal idea of the time. What was it like to actually live through those events? What might have happened to me if I were a Russian peasant? Things like that.

I love them, too, because they’re all different. This book, Letters from Rifka, and All Quiet on the Western Front (just to mention a few) were all written about these same few years, and all give a vastly different perspective.

This book actually did remind me of AQWF quite a bit (and made me want to re-read it) because of Katya’s limited-understanding-commentary on the war and Misha’s revolutionary perspective.

Here are a few quotes that made me think of it:

“As far as I could see, all of Europe was like a children’s playground, with everyone choosing sides… All at once, everyone hated everyone else.”

In a letter from Misha to Katya: “I sometimes wonder why I am fighting in this army. I don’t see why we are at war. This is an old men’s quarrel brought about by emperors, and not the people.” (This one reminded me the most of AQWF: “…a declaration of war should be a kind of popular festival with entrance-tickets and bands, like a bull fight. Then in the arena the ministers and generals of the two countries, dressed in bathing-drawers and armed with clubs, can have it out among themselves. Whoever survives, his country wins. That would be much simpler and more just than this arrangement, where the wrong people do the fighting.”)

“Once you begin to hate, there is no stopping.”

And a couple more quotes I enjoyed:

While stitching bandages for soldiers, the girls would read tragedies aloud to each other: “While there was tragedy all around us, we escaped to the tragedies in books, which went away when the books were closed.” This really struck me as an interesting use for literature: a place where you have control (or at least the ability to escape), even if you have no control of the world around you.

“We may be better off without him, but when it takes a murder to rescue a country, nothing will save it.”

Finally, I was grateful for the balanced perspective of the book. Because the two primary characters are on opposite sides of the revolutionary debate (Katya, of the aristocracy, and Misha, wanting revolution), we are not biased toward one side or the other even though we mainly follow Katya. Books about times of upheaval like these can often come down strongly on one side or the other, and I was glad Angel on the Square didn’t.

And I love how, at the end, even though Misha and Katya were on opposite sides politically, they both admit that they were wrong to have been blinded by their prejudices.

The six words that changed the world: “I am sorry. I was wrong.”

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