Review- The Accidental Anarchist

The Accidental Anarchist

Bryna Kranzler

Crosswalk Press, 2010

This week I finished reading The Accidental Anarchist by Bryna Kranzler. Compiled from the journals of Jacob Marateck, Kranzler’s grandfather, this book recounts Marateck’s life as a Russian Jew during the Russo-Japanese war. My interest in the book was piqued largely because I had recently finished reading Delin Colon’s compelling work Rasputin and the Jews. If you read one, by the way, I highly recommend reading the other. Together they fill out an intriguing cultural and political picture of the era.

I found myself so fascinated by The Accidental Anarchist that I thought about it at work, wondered what would happen during dinner, and picked it up each night before bed. Several nights I went to sleep much later than I had intended because I was simply unaware how much time was passing. One reason for this is that Kranzler does a remarkable job of turning a life into a narrative. The reader knows what drives Marateck and wants to know whether or not he achieves his goal.

The story centers around his three death sentences and his desire for marriage. Marateck endures things most of us can only imagine, and many things we literally couldn’t imagine. His remarkable character enables him to survive while so many others around him don’t. Living in such a volatile time and place, Marateck endures and embraces extraordinary events with a desire for taking risks and living a life that matters. Many of his near-death experiences are due to the inhumane treatment of the Jews at the time, but many are also due to his inability to sit still and let life pass him by. From a forced labor camp to the homes of the wealthy, from bayonet charges in the Manchurian wilderness to a dangerous trek in search of a synagogue for Yom Kippur, from joining the Polish underground to finding the girl who saved his life, Marateck’s faith and resourcefulness enable him to survive.

One of the things that struck me most about the book was Kranzler’s ability to show the reader Marateck’s humanity. She writes his voice with such consistency that I was barely aware that it wasn’t Marateck himself writing the story. Kranzler pulls together the pieces of his life into a strong central narrative that keeps the reader engrossed. Her writing is infused with Marateck’s dry humor and understated compassion for others, while his character is clearly communicated not only through what he does but also through how he thinks. Ultimately, Kranzler has developed the stories of his life into a true human personality.

Kranzler’s writing as a whole, in fact, is strong throughout the story. She maintains a consistent voice, compelling sentence structures, and smooth transitions from idea to idea and event to event. Peppered throughout the pages is subtle and helpful historical information that enables the reader to understand a different culture and a different era. Kranzler clearly treated her writing as an art form and uses it to bring to life the story of her grandfather in a compelling and engrossing story.

So much did I enjoy this book, so much did it prompt me to think, that it is now one of my favorites. I highly recommend picking up a copy of The Accidental Anarchist. The book is entertaining, thought-provoking, and unique. You’ll find it well worth reading.

Winner of The USA “Best Books of 2011″ Award
in the Biography:Historical category

Finalist, ForeWord Review’s 2011 Book of the Year: Biography

Honorable Mention, Biography/Autobiography, London Book Festival 2011

  1. I’m proud to be mentioned in the same breath as Bryna Kranzler. I, too felt “The Accidental Anarchist” was riveting and was mesmerized by Jacob Marateck’s voice and humor in the face of extreme adversity.

    If you were a Jew in the Russian Army, you were as likely to be killed by the men you fought side by side with, as well as those you fought against. One theme that is echoed in this and other memoirs of that time and place is the sense of straddling two worlds, yet belonging to none. If you didn’t study Torah and remain in your village, you were removed from your Jewish roots; if you didn’t convert to Christianity, you could never really be Russian.

    The U.S. was a popular place to settle for people of many nationalities who were made to feel that they didn’t belong. We are “the wretched refuse”, as the Statue of Liberty says.

  2. Depicting a just slightly earlier period, Boris Akunin’s “The State Counsellor” goes well beyond the demands of a straightforward crime novel to explore similar issues.

    • I haven’t heard of that book- what did you like about it?

      • As you’ve now signed up to follow my blog http://simonsworlds13.wordpress.com, Kate, and the last post was a review of that and another book, you’ll now presumably know! But for the others:

        It’s a crime novel set in Moscow around the very end of the 19th century or possibly the first few years of the 20th. I like the description and the atmosphere, especially the political and cultural atmosphere – a creaking autocracy defended not only by unthinking or uncaring officials and nobles, but also by thoughtful people who fear the alternatives; revolutionaries with excellent reasons for turning against the state, justifying deaths of innocent people but (some of them) troubled by them; the two main characters, government official and revolutionary cell assassin (who would have found something in common, but will never exchange words), conducting a murderous dance in the dark while both are manipulated by a mysterious third figure. It has something of a good spy novel and the intellectual and cultural swirls of the time are well conveyed.

        Akunin (whose real name is a Georgian one) is big as a crime novelist in Russia and is making an impact in the UK too.

  3. What a great review. Thank you for writing this. I am a friend of the author and in fact, we both published around the same time ( mine is Sky of Red Poppies, now a 2012 One Book, One San Diego.) I agree with you in that Maratek’s humanity and his subtle sense of humor stand out and give the story that special “voice” that readers connect to.
    All best,
    Zoe Ghahremani

    • Thank you Zoe! I honestly loved The Accidental Anarchist. What sort of writing do you do? I love your book title. I’m intrigued.

      • I write literary fiction and am currently finalizing the edits on my next one, The Moon Daughter. I write what I know best and being an Iranian American – who has lived in the US most of her life :-) – my stories reflect some of my cultural background.

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