The White Guard review

Mikhail Bulgakov is one of my favorite authors, and this book has been on my reading list for far too long. I’ve had a copy of it for years, albeit a copy in the original Russian. I’m somewhat ashamed of the fact that I’ve allowed my Russian skills to languish to the point that I had to purchase an English translation in order to finally read The White Guard, but a little shame should never stand in the way of a worthwhile read! This story was known more widely in its play form than as a book (Stalin was said to have seen the play 15 times), just as Bulgakov was known better as a playwright than as an author, due to the suppression of his fiction by Soviet censorship. Before he was known as a playwright in Moscow he was a doctor who served in the White Army and specialized in the treatment of venereal diseases in Kiev. Likewise the character Alexei Turbin is a doctor with the same specialty who is also involved in the White resistance. The White Guard is largely biographical, as the Turbin family occupies the same apartment where the Bulgakov family lived and Mikhail practiced. The seven Bulgakov siblings are reduced to three Turbins, Alexei, Elena, and Nikolka, and it is through their experiences that we see the Socialist siege of Kiev during the winter of 1918-1919. During the Civil War that followed the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 Kiev was occupied by the German army, the Whites or monarchists, the Socialists, and the Bolsheviks. The White Guard aptly and accurately depicts the upheaval and confusion that reigned in Kiev during this period. Bulgakov left Kiev and medicine for Moscow and literature in 1921. Through his departure from Kiev we are able to re-visit it nearly a century later in the pages of The White Guard. Art is the ultimate victory of resistance.

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