Martin Amis, House of Meetings Reviews

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“House of Meetings ”


written by Harriet Klausner on 08/11/2006

House of Meetings
Martin Amis
Knopf, January 2007, $23.00
ISBN: 1400044553

In 2004, the wealthy octogenarian Russian tours one of his former homes, the gulag and several other such horrific places. As he looks around this place of horror, he writes down what he sees and what he remembers so that his American "stepdaughter" Venus will never forget long after he dies.

He compare the Russian-American relationship today to that of his time along with his brother Lev in the Norlag concentration camp from 1948-1956. On top of his memories, he provides Venus with a second letter that a dying Lev sent him in 1982 soon after his nephew died in Afghanistan. He thinks about his first love, Lev's wife Zoya, who married a Soviet apparatchik before becoming a drunk. Life has been hard on him and his family, but he can go peacefully because his Venus lives in affluence in America.

Though not quite as powerful as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's THE GULAG ARCHIPELAGO 1918-1956, the brothers and Zoya are compelling characters, as readers will envision Stalin's death camps from their perspectives. The key message of "never forget so that history does not repeat itself" hits home throughout the plot, and is accentuated when the unnamed narrator and Zoya meet years later at a gulag's HOUSE OF MEETINGS. In contrast, Venus comes across as a stereotypical shallow ugly American who has no appreciation for what her "stepfather" or others went through, as she has never had to sacrifice any of affluent lifestyle for any cause or atrocity. She serves as contrast to an evocative look at the effect of surviving carnage.

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