BOOKS YOU’LL LOVE: THE STORY BEHIND THE STORIES
Why would a scene in a Russian Orthodox Church appear in a murder/mystery story? There’s more to the idea than throwing in an unexpected twist in the plot.
As I reported in Stories 1, I traveled in the Soviet Union in the ‘80s. While I knew about the Russian Orthodox Church, I’d never spent any time in one or with their clergy. Certainly, not in Russia!
One morning I got up at 4:30, left the Intourist state supplied hotel, and walked down to an Orthodox Church not far away. Since I was in the Soviet Union, I had no idea what I’d find, but I didn’t expect to see many people wandering inside a church. Much to my surprise, I found people of all ages lighting candles, kissing icons, and making intercessions. Clouds of incense hung in the air and the old church felt mystical and mysterious. Having been raised on Western propaganda, I didn’t expect anyone in the Soviet Union believed much of anything about Christianity.
What began to emerge was an entirely different understanding of faith and worship. The Russian Church emphasized transcendence where the West pushed immanence. The American Church’s interest in the immediacy of God’s presence quickly became overshadowed by the Orthodox understanding of the overpowering and otherworldly dimension of worship. With a translator, I tried to talk with some of these people and found that they had convictions that had carried them through terrible and difficult times. These “conversations” proved revolutionary .
So, in The Assassins I intended to convey that this atmosphere could have an impact even on a hard core Communist. In addition, I wanted to paint a picture of the hard and demanding world that many Russians came out of. Often, their actions were created by circumstances that many of us would have a difficult time even imagining. Such was the case with spy Masha Khayina who used the name Marsha Hay in my book.
Russian literature is filled with important insights into human behavior. Fydor Dostoevski’s The Brother Karamazov is an example of powerful Christian insight gained from struggling with questions that have vexed readers for centuries. It seemed to me that Masha’s bright mind would be impacted by the force of such ideas. Consequently, I have her borrowing books that she’d never seen in the Soviet Union days and now modern Russia because her life had been focused so completely on her work. The discovery of the value of human life would prove revolutionary. And it did!
Russia has always been a very different world and hard for the West to understand. The snow piles up in the winter and the temperatures drop to the bottom. It has been a land of revolution and resolute defiance of invaders. Ask Napoleon or Hitler.
As Churchill once said, “An enigma wrapped in a mystery.” Perhaps, there’s a touch of that intrigue in this book.