The People's Train
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'Thomas Keneally is one of the historical novel's most expert practitioners, and his new book sees him back on the form that produced Schindler's Ark. Giles Foden, Guardian Artem Samsurov, a charismatic protege of Lenin and an ardent socialist, reaches sanctuary in Australia after escaping his Siberian labour camp and making a long, perilous journey via Japan. But Brisbane in 1911 turns out not to be quite the workers' paradise he was expecting, or the bickering local Russian emigres a model of brotherhood. As Artem helps organise a strike and gets dangerously entangled in the death of another exile, he discovers that corruption, repression and injustice are almost as prevalent in Brisbane as at home. Yet he finds fellow spirits in a fiery old suffragette and a distractingly attractive married woman, who undermines his belief that a revolutionary cannot spare the time for relationships. When the revolution dawns and he returns to Russia, will his ideals hold true? Based on a true story, The People's Train brings the past alive and makes it resonate in the present. With all the empathy and storytelling skills that he brought to bear in Schindler's Ark, Tom Keneally takes us to the heart of the Russian Revolution through the dramatic life of an unknown, inspiring figure. Like Schindler, Samsurov was no saint, but he was an individual who played a vital role in world-changing events.
Trofimova! Federev might be a different matter ... 16 After a week, the Cossacks had not moved. The brave railway men over in the east at Novocherkassk – Mensheviks though many of them might have been – had made things difficult for them by holding up the arrival of fodder and grain in that town. It was decided to be safe for us to attend a coming congress in Ekaterinoslav. When we arrived there by train we went by truck straight to the technical university where I searched the crowd for
Rybakov. Old Rybakov had begun as a tally-clerk at Cannon Hill meatworks but, though always suffering bad asthma, was a figure of authority now that he had a good job as an engineer in the tramways. My old friend from Shanghai, big lean A. I. ‘Grisha’ Suvarov was there, still a beanpole with freckles. Once he had walked two days from a place named Stanthorpe, through the bush to visit me at the railway camp. But now he had a job at the Cannon Hill meatworks and he had boasted he could get me a
succour or work or to sell a saddle or a pot they had made. I overheard my mother telling my father that Aunt Marta was not happy about Uncle Efim’s distant work and addiction to strike meetings. In the towns there were a number of pretty young bourgeois women, operatives of the party, involved in organising meetings, printing leaflets and helping the works committees. These were dangerously alluring young women, who starved themselves to save money for the movement and thus looked angelic with
still on the running board, and Podnaksikov’s beloved Lucia. Well, he said, indeed we are of many nations, combined together in the brotherhood of Mrs Mockridge’s fine auto! Looking around myself, I saw Suvarov shake his head. God knew Russians could be overly poetic, but Buchan was trying too hard, perhaps fancying himself a prose version of Robbie Burns. My dear Hope, Buchan continued, I noticed when I put my humble offering in the boot that there is indeed a generous picnic already placed
well as telling me such intimate things he began to bring me books, and food from his own kitchen. And just as I thought I had found a friend for the duration of my sentence, I was deprived of his company. One early evening in the spring of 1909 we were ordered from our cells and told to bring our caps and blankets with us. We were lined up in the prison forecourt where armed guards – whose faces were unknown to us – were drawn up with carbines. Budeskin had not warned me of this movement and it