The Last Summer by Ricarda Huch

last-summerFiction – print. Translated from the German by Jamie Bulloch. Peirene Press, 2016. Originally published 1910. 121 pgs. Purchased.

Amid the political upheaval of the beginning of the twenty century in Russia, the governor of the state university in St. Petersburg shutters the university’s doors and decamps to his summer residence with his family. There, a letter arrives in the post, promising to kill the governor is he fails to take the “right” side by reopening the university.

Concerned for his safety, the Ygor’s wife hires a young man to serve as a bodyguard for her husband. Lju is supposed to present himself as a secretary to help with correspondences and dictation in order to keep the would-be assassins from knowing the governor is now protected. Except, Lju sides with the students – and his hiring is key to their assassination plan.

The call is coming from inside the house. This film trope immediately came to mind as I read Huch’s novel, which was originally published in 1910. The reader knows Lju is plotting from within the house to kill the governor, and I turned each page quickly and in horror that the family continued to miss clues of what Lju was up to.

The story is told as a series of letters between Ygor’s wife and her sister, their eldest daughter and her aunt, the three children to each other, and between Lju and his co-conspirator. It took me roughly 30 pages to adjust to this format; a lengthy amount of time for a book that is only 121 pages long.

But I eventually settled into the format, enjoying the glimpses into each person’s private space. The letters explain how and why the family miss or dismiss Lju’s behavior, and I particularly appreciated the psychological aspects of Lju’s planned crime.

The final page, while expected, is breathtaking. I was stunned by the end of the book and immediately flipped back to read the final letter one more time. I think I may have found a new favorite publication from Peirene Press.

This is my eighteenth book for #20BooksofSummer. I purchased this book in October 2018 as a treat for myself after landing a new job and making the required cross-country move.

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