Off the Shelf: Petrograd

PetrogradPetrograd by Philip Gelatt

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I can’t quite remember how I heard about Petrograd but when I discovered that there was a historical graphic novel about the assassination of Rasputin, I knew I had to read it. Petrograd was a very different read for me; normally I speed through graphic novels only to read them again & again to let everything sink in. I went through this book much more slowly, possibly due to the detailed atmospheric panels that were on nearly every page.

Gelatt’s story moves quickly from the halls of power, where many factions are fighting to preserve their interests, to the common people, focusing specifically on Cleary, an Irish-born agent working for the British S.I.S. in their Russian office. Cleary works as a spy in order to stay away from the front lines of WWI, but he quickly finds himself swept up in the machinations of his superiors. Due to his contacts in both the lower and higher classes of Russian society, he is placed in charge of a plot to eliminate Rasputin in order to make sure the Russian ruling class not only remains receptive only to the wishes of British Empire, but to keep them in power despite the growing talk of revolution in the streets. His mission is headed straight for failure.

Cleary is a fascinating, sympathetic character: he’s not a daredevil spy but must follow the commands of his superiors despite his trepidations. He also has a great deal of insight into the meaninglessness of conflict due to his time in the trenches & when he is forced to fight for his self-preservation, I often found the panels that just depicted his face so poignant and moving. Crook’s art expresses just as much as Gelatt’s words & Crook excellently reproduces period photographs to great effect. Petrograd is a sober, moving book with a touch of a Dostoyevskian ending. Highly recommended for Russophiles of all types & readers who love moody political thrillers.

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