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May 15, 2018

How Did I Get Here? by Jane Marlow ~ A Review

by MK French

(1st Chapter, 1st Paragraph)
Medical student Andrey Rozhdestvensky volunteers as a surgeon for the Russian army during the Crimean War in 1854, and learns the hard way what war is really like. He tries to keep death and disease from decimating the troops and is worn down by the heartlessness and cruelty of war. Even after it ends, Andrey is left trying to piece his shattered soul back together.

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. A free book was provided for an honest review.

May 2018; River Grove Books
978-1632991645; ebook, print (310 pages)
historical fiction, world literature
How Did I Get Here? is the second book in the Petrovo series, so those who read Who Is To Blame? will recognize characters. Jane Marlow has extensively researched the Crimean War era of Russian history, and it shows. Andrey's naivete as a student initially allows us to see what medical care is at the time, as well as the prevailing sexism and casual misogyny of the time period. The constant fear from the soldiers Andrey treats, as well as the desperation of all staff as they work with dwindling supplies, is a palpable thing. "We physicians work eighteen-hour shifts. Eighteen hours on throbbing, swollen feet. Eighteen hours skidding on floorboards slippery with gore. Eighteen hours laboring in liquid heat without chloroform or morphine and with only short supplies of bandaging materials."

The descriptions of the surgeries and the bodies in the shelling and battles are fairly descriptive and show the horrors that the people had to deal with. The front is a dangerous place, and the wartime situation is described in flashes. It's a brilliant way to show us how Andrey is perceiving things, with dissociation from his own emotions as well as the actual events that eventually trigger his PTSD. In addition, the people around him suffer in their own ways and find comfort in friendships where they can. Still, it's often not enough. "I’m physically and mentally off-kilter. It occurs to me that although a soldier’s physical wounds are bandaged, no one tends to his deeper, intangible wounds. "

Part two of the novel shifts in tone from the actual war to Andrey's life in Moscow as a civilian doctor, though the specter of war remains. There are certainly well-planned scenes and descriptions of action, but they don't pop out as much as the wartime scenes do. Maybe this is intentional because Andrey still has so many flashbacks and nightmares of the war when the politics in the city reminds him of what had happened. He tends to ruin his own chances at happiness in his work and personal life and gets caught up in one blunder after another. His efforts to avoid change actually means that he has no ability to prevent it from happening or to cope with it when it does. It's in part three that he arrives in Petrovo, which forces Andrey to contemplate the realities of countryside living with former serfs. It's here that he slowly comes to learn about himself and cope, and eventually find a goal for his future and meaning in his life.

Overall, this was a great look into the time period and the realities of war, military medicine and civilian medicine for the time period. The politics and the concerns of the people are deftly woven throughout it so that you learn about the era without it feeling so clinical. There is no doubt going to be a third book in this series, recounting Andrey's life in Petrovo. It's bound to be just as interesting as this one is.

Buy How Did I Get Here? at Amazon

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and golden retriever. 

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  1. I like historical fiction, and this books piques my interest because of the setting and time period.

  2. It has been a long while since I read historical fiction, and since I've always loved books set in historical Russia, I would like to read more. Thanks for sharing, and for visiting my blog.

  3. Sounds interesting. I'll have to look for the first book in the series when my TBR pile gets a little smaller. This week I am spotlighting Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn from my TBR pile. Happy reading!

  4. I like the intro and would keep reading.

  5. Not my kind of book but I hope you enjoy it.

  6. It seems like this is well written, but it also looks like it could break your heart.