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Deathless Write-Up

C A S T R O, Ruth Anna Julia Bernice S.


2012-32677, BA Creative Writing, CAL
CL 112 (Dr. Jurilla)
03.12.2014

I do not tolerate a world emptied of you. I have tried. So goes my favorite line from Catherynne
M. Valentes novel, Deathless. Released in 2011, Deathless is a retelling of a Russian myth - of the
abduction of Marya Morevna, her marriage to Ivan the Fool, and the consequent death of Koshei
the Deathless - set against the backdrop of twentieth century Russia. The narrative is written
with an almost poetic posture, and while the characters are not culturally familiar to us, many
other aspects of the novel come easily enough to feel - yes, feel, because more than having an
intellectual charm to it, Deathless is visceral to its core.

I approach mythology the same way I approach God - with belief around which disbelief is
orchestrated, and punctuated by all the evidence that doesnt point to the existence of them.
What makes either so hard to believe at times is their absence, and people dont usually believe
what isnt there, though throughout the course weve argued that the use of a novel is in the
readers permission to suspend disbelief.

But often, its much easier to ask where were you than to fight through a war just to open
your closed fists after, to see what youve lost and what youve managed to keep. Its easier to ask
what use is mythology than to see it as patterned after what might be bigger than we are.
Deathless answers these questions with a narrative wrought with intrigue and love - where was
the Tsar of Life when everybody was dying? what use is a tsarita if she cant save anyone? Koschei
the Deathless was out fighting for his domain, for the living. Marya Morevna is out wearing blood
to help him save you. But the reality that Deathless presents is this: the war is always going
badly. And sometimes, you lose.

Reading this novel can prove to be hard at times, especially if there is no patience left in
the world to read through poetry to get to the prose. The unfamiliarity with the Russian culture
and folklore could prove to be too much once you get further in, and it would feel like a mountain
caving in on you just as soon as you think youve figure out whats going on. But you carry on -
because reading Deathless is like reading two kinds of histories (an imagined one, and another
that really has taken place), it is like reading about human nature and knowing for yourself that
the words printed on the page are true, because youve known for yourself your capacity for such
severity.

I do not tolerate a world emptied of you. I have tried. I say in the beginning, as my
favorite line from the novel. I can tolerate the absence of a lot of other things, but Ive found - as I
pored over Deathless over and over since my Fully Booked correspondent emailed me that I can
get it - that I cannot tolerate a world denied mythology (and God). And Im not sure if it would
prove the same with you, but as far as good books go, this is a really good one - even if you dont
get into it for the sentimental, it made me feel something, book report.