James Fleming redefines the historical novel with WHITE BLOOD. Part
love story and part thriller, this book is as gray as the Russian
winter sky and just as heavy, but as beautiful as a blanket of snow
on the country landscape.
At age 14, Charlie Doig loses his father to the plague, a fatal
disease passed from a rat to a tiny flea to the elder Doig. From
that day forward, Charlie vows to avenge his father's death and
embarks on a quest to discover rare bugs. That is his fervent
desire. But it isn't his highest desire. His highest desire is to
marry his cousin, Elizaveta. From early on, winning her heart
consumes him. A man of passion, Charlie has patience, tenacity and
determination. He will live abroad, hunting for new specimens of
birds and insects with naturalist Hartwig Goetz. He will float upon
rivers, scale mountains and brave drenching rains in search of an
elusive white swift or some never-before-seen beetle. All the
while, his heart simmers for Elizaveta.
Soon, war breaks out and the funds for Charlie's research dry up.
Goetz exhibits a flurry of patriotism and deserts the birds to
serve his country. Fortune smiles upon Charlie in the form of Kobi,
a man with no family, a variety of very useful skills and an
eagerness to earn money for the hard times ahead. When it becomes
necessary for Charlie to return to his family's home in Russia, a
manor house called the Pink House, Kobi accompanies him.
Charlie finds comfort and solace among his relatives, and settles
in to woo Elizaveta. For a while, things seem to be going his way.
However, the winter weather turns typically Russian, bitter and
frozen with snow and ice. In the face of short funds and poor
organization, disillusioned infantrymen straggle throughout the
countryside, searching for food and warmth. Two soldiers come upon
the Pink House, and it is agreed that they will have shelter and a
meal for the night. With a nasty storm brewing, it becomes
necessary for them to stay on a few days. Charlie takes an instant
dislike to the pair of them, suspicious of their integrity and
their motives. As well he should be.
With his distrust of the resident military men growing rapidly, he
reinvigorates his plea to Elizaveta for her quick decision about
moving to Chicago. With their own government in shambles, now seems
like the right time to try out America for a while. Had they left
earlier, they might have made it.
One of the most powerful stories to come along in ages, WHITE BLOOD
will delight you, disgust you, infuriate you, make you laugh, and
ultimately make you cry. It will take you through the full gamut of
your emotions. Even when you know what's coming, you don't really
know what's coming. It is not a pretty story, but a beautifully
Fleming's prose is stunning, creating a story gritty and full of
human frailty, passion and lust. It begins slowly and gathers
steam, fleshing out the myriad characters with their faults, quick
humors and base desires. By the book's middle, the political
repartee reads as though one were at the dinner table with family
arguing the state of the world.
His writing is distinctly masculine, the unequalled beauty of it
due to an acute sense of detail. He leaves little without
meticulous description, guiding the reader through his own vivid
imagination to a flawlessly executed climax.
Reviewed by Kate Ayers. on January 24, 2011