Chimes of a Lost Cathedral


By Janet Fitch

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A young Russian woman comes into her own in the midst of revolution and civil war in this “brilliant” novel set in “a world of furious beauty” (Los Angeles Review of Books).

After the loves and betrayals of The Revolution of Marina M., young poet Marina Makarova finds herself alone amid the devastation of the Russian Civil War — pregnant and adrift, forced to rely on her own resourcefulness to find a place to wait out the birth of her child and eventually make her way back to her native city, Petrograd.

After two years of revolution, the city that was once St. Petersburg is almost unrecognizable, the haunted, half-emptied, starving Capital of Once Had Been, its streets teeming with homeless children. Moved by their plight, though hardly better off herself, she takes on the challenge of caring for these orphans, until they become the tool of tragedy from an unexpected direction.

Shaped by her country’s ordeals and her own trials — betrayal and privation and inconceivable loss — Marina evolves as a poet and a woman of sensibility and substance hardly imaginable at the beginning of her transformative odyssey.

Chimes of a Lost Cathedral is the culmination of one woman’s s journey through some of the most dramatic events of the last century — the epic story of an artist who discovers her full power, passion, and creativity just as her revolution reveals its true direction for the future.


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We'll meet again in Petersburg,

As if we had buried the sun there,

And for the first time we will utter

The blessed, senseless word…

—Osip Mandelstam,
"We'll Meet Again in Petersburg,"
November 1920


Cast of Characters and Notes on Events
from The Revolution of Marina M.

The Makarovs

Marina Dmitrievna Makarova: Poet. Born 1900, daughter of a prominent Petrograd intelligentsia family. Breaks with family October 1917, joins a circle of radical poets. Marries poet Genya Kuriakin 1918. Her various aliases include Marusya, the deaf-mute, and Misha, boy hooligan and railway apprentice. Pregnant by estranged lover Kolya Shurov, she has just fled the cult of Ionia, February 1919.

Dmitry Ivanovich Makarov: Marina's father. Jurist and Kadet member of the Provisional Government. Presently in Siberia, joining forces with anti-Bolshevik groups. Named Marina a Bolshevik spy rather than risk endangering his movement.

Vera Borisovna Makarova: Marina's mother. Artistic society matron, a spiritualist seeker. Aristocrat. Currently the mystical figurehead of a cult based at her estate at Maryino.

Sergei (Seryozha) Dmitrievich Makarov: Marina's beloved, artistic younger brother. Died in the defense of the Moscow Kremlin, October 1917, as a military cadet, a post secured by his father against Marina's protests.

Vladimir (Volodya) Dmitrievich Makarov: Marina's older brother. An officer of the tsar's army, now fighting with the Volunteers (Whites) under Denikin in the Don.

Avdokia Fomanovna Malykh: Elderly nanny to the Makarov children, and to Vera Borisovna before them.

Ginevra Haddon-Finch: Marina's governess. Returned to England after the October Revolution.

Basya: The Makarovs' housemaid. Clever and vengeful. Becomes chairman of the apartment house committee (domkom) on Furshtatskaya Street, a position of power, from which she persecutes her former mistress.


Marina's Friends

Nikolai (Kolya) Stepanovich Shurov: Marina's first and great love. Former officer, Volodya's best friend. Speculator and adventurer. Their relationship ruptured following his infidelity with a peasant woman, Faina. Unaware Marina is pregnant.

Varvara Vladimirovna Razrushenskaya: Marina's brilliant school friend, a radical Marxist and committed Communist, later a Cheka officer. Ruined Marina's relationship with her family by revealing her to have spied on her father for the Bolsheviks. Briefly Marina's possessive lover. Marina abandons her to run away with Kolya.

Wilhelmina (Mina) Solomonovna Katzeva: Marina's childhood best friend. Chemistry student at university. Forced to leave school when her photographer father dies. Now running his studio. Briefly Kolya's lover. Hires Marina, as "Misha," to be her photographer's assistant. Marina abandons her for Kolya during the first anniversary of the revolution.


The Katzev Household

Both Seryozha and Marina, as well as Marina's poet circle, are close to the Katzev family.

Solomon Moiseivich Katzev: Mina's father. A well-known Petrograd photographer. Championed Seryozha. Dies from the hardships following the revolution.

Sofia Yakovlevna Katzeva: Mina's mother. A kind woman with a soft spot for the Makarov children.

Uncle Aaron and Aunt Fanya: Solomon Moiseivich's elderly brother and his wife. Anarchists. Formerly lived in America.

Darya (Dunya) Solomonovna Katzeva: Mina's younger sister. In love with painter Sasha Orlovsky.

Shoshanna (Shusha) Solomonovna Katzeva: Mina's youngest sister. A great admirer of Marina's.

Roman Osipovich Ippolit: Mina's fiancé. Medical student.


The Poets

The Transrational Interlocutors of the Terrestrial Now, many of whom lived together in a loose collective called the Poverty Artel on Grivtsova Alley.

Gennady (Genya) Yurievich Kuriakin: Marina's lover, later husband. Futurist poet, Bolshevik. Charismatic center of the poets' circle. Departs for Moscow with Zina Ostrovskaya to act in films after breakup with Marina. Creates a radical theatrical group.

Anton Mikhailovich Chernikov: Leader of the Transrational Interlocutors, editor of the journal Okno, Genya's best friend and mentor. Difficult and critical of Marina. The sole legitimate tenant of the Poverty Artel.

Zina Ostrovskaya: Radical poet. In love with Genya Kuriakin. Creates an opportunity for Genya to move with her to Moscow.

Gigo Gelashvili: Georgian poet, slightly mad.

Sasha Orlovsky: Constructivist painter. Friend of Genya's. In love with Dunya Katzeva.

Galina Krestovskaya: Actress and would-be poet. Benefactor of Anton, Okno, and the Poverty Artel. Her apartment was the gathering place for the poetry circle.

Andrei Kirillovich Krestovsky: Galina's husband. Owner of theater snack bars in Petrograd, source of the funding for the Poverty Artel. Killed during Red Terror, 1918.

Petya Simkin: Poet, university student, musician.

Oksana Linichuk: Poet, university student. Brought flowers to Marina's wedding.

Arseny Grodetsky: Poet, young disciple of Genya Kuriakin's.


The Criminals

Baron Arkady von Princip, the "Archangel": Petrograd crime boss during the revolution. Unstable and brilliant, obsessed with Marina and with Kolya, who double-crosses him in a deal involving Dmitry Makarov's counterrevolutionary conspiracy. Holds Marina captive in an apartment on Tauride Street before she escapes him during a meeting of the counterrevolutionaries.

Akim, the "Kirghiz": Arkady's lieutenant. Tends Marina while she is in captivity on Tauride Street. Discovering her working as "Misha," he informs her that the Archangel has become unhinged.

Gurin: Arkady's driver.

Borya, "Saint Peter": The muscle in Arkady's gang.


The Counterrevolutionary Conspirators

Dmitry Makarov's colleagues, planning the uprising of the Czech Legion, 1918. Met with Von Princip in a dacha in the woods near Pulkovo, where Dmitry accused Marina of being a Bolshevik spy.

Ivan Karlinsky: SR Party, leader of the conspiracy.

Viktoria Karlinskaya: Karlinsky's wife and Dmitry Makarov's mistress. Insists that Von Princip "get rid of" Marina, considering her a Bolshevik spy. Marina reveals Karlinskaya's identity to Varvara while in Cheka custody.

Commander Fielding Brown, the "Englishman": a British military attaché.

Konstantin, the "Odessan": a famous English spy.


The Five

Astronomers at Pulkovo Observatory, where Marina sought refuge as the deaf-mute Marusya.

Aristarkh Apollonovich Belopolsky, the "First Ancient": Astronomer, director of the observatory. Discovered the nature of the rings of Saturn.

Boris Osipovich Bondarin, the "Second": Astrophysicist.

Nikolai Gerasimovich Pomogayush, the "Third": Chemist and astrobotanist. Marusya's mentor.

Valentin Vladimirovich Tipov, the "Fourth": Astrophysicist.

Ludmila Vasilievna Bredikskaya, the "Fifth": The starushka. Physicist and spectrum analyst.

Rodion Karlovich Mistropovich: Young astronomer. Returns to the observatory with his sick wife and children during the height of the Petrograd cholera epidemic, spring 1918.


The Aristocratic Communards

Princess Elizaveta Vladimirovna Gruzinskaya: The "white mouse." Elderly aristocrat cultivated by Kolya Shurov. Foresaw collectivization of Petrograd grand apartments and preemptively formed a "collective" of her aristocratic friends, Emilia Ivanovna Golovina, Viktor Sergeevich Golovin, and Pavel Alexandrovich Naryshkin.


The Ionians

Spiritualist cult at Vera Borisovna's family estate at Maryino—rising from the ashes of a failed experiment, the Laboratory, a large commune in Petrograd. Vera Borisovna lives in seclusion there as the "Mother," the spiritual figurehead of the cult.

Taras Ukashin, the "Master": Charismatic leader of the cult of Ionia. Following his teaching of inflowing, taking energy in through the skin, his followers nearly starve.

Andrei Ionian: The "intelligent." Ukashin's court jester. Formerly the publisher Andrei Alexandrovich Petrovin, a friend of Vera Borisovna's and one of the founders of the spiritualist group before it was overtaken by Taras Ukashin and moved to Maryino. Commits suicide.

Other Ionians: Magda Ionian, the "gypsy"; Bogdan Ionian, former dancer at the Mariinsky Theater, Marina's friend; Natalya Ionian, former dancer, Marina's friend; Katrina Ionian, singer, object of Ukashin's desire, secret lover of Pasha Ionian; Gleb, Pasha's rival; Ilya, Lilya, and Anna Ionian.


The Maryino Villagers

Lyuda: Avdokia's niece and Marina's girlhood companion, whom she taught to read, married to the blacksmith and currently representing the village at the regional soviet. Protecting Ionia from the Cheka.

Olya: Avdokia's half sister, instrumental in Marina's escape from Ionia.

Part I

Iskra, the Spark

(March 1919–September 1919)

1 Tikhvin

I WAS RISEN, risen from the dead. I had escaped the house of snow and lies, I had been spared.

An icy fog obscured the road the day I left Novinka on the back of the old man's sledge piled with logs, heading for the market town Tikhvin. The countryside revealed itself in the foggy gaps, opening and closing like curtains. The load shifted dangerously underneath me, wooden runners jolting in the ruts. The old man smoked his pipe while I made plans that blew away like snowflakes, into the drifts and gone.

Five days we rode, stopping in villages, sleeping in straw, the child alive and moving within me. It was stubborn, like its mama. My celestial egg. Gathering strength for the jailbreak.

And out rushed oceans



warring nations…


Rocketing red and fiery across the dazzled brow

of Nothingness


Till Nothing itself became a memory.

At last, we descended into Tikhvin, a crossroads for centuries, with its river and its railroad, the point of arrival and departure where I'd last left my one and faithless love. His tears had run, but I had not been moved. That vain girl, walking around with her eyes shut tight, thinking that life should be straight and good, that she could pick and choose, like plucking stones out of a handful of rice. But now I was five months along with his child unborn, and had learned that imperfection was part of the weave of the world. I would return to him if I could, and pick up the stitch I had dropped.

Tikhvin was a substantial town of some twenty thousand souls—a number I once thought negligible. Now it was dizzying. So many streets, people, houses, fences, and carts…The giant Uspensky Monastery loomed with its five-towered carillon, its ancient fortress walls, which had once protected the entire population from Swedish invaders. Now Russian soldiers held the town in their grip, hanging about on street corners in their greatcoats, with their rifles and grisly bayonets. A gang of recruits marched toward a barracks, accompanied by shouts and curses. This was the current reality, the sound of the year 1919, the crash and clang of war. Time was bringing me into its brazen dance, leading me by the hand.

After days of nothing more urgent than snowbound forest and the bony rump of the horse, Tikhvin's sprawl and energy unnerved me, and the child recoiled inside me. Like a country simpleton, I marveled at every small sight—the town seemed a metropolis, a terrifying wonder. Every sound amplified, every movement a jolt. I flinched at a carter banging crates to the ground, startled at a shout from a doorway. Now I understood the peasant's terror when he encountered mighty Petersburg for the first time—the din of Nikolaevsky station, the bustle on Nevsky Prospect.

As the sledge scraped along toward the station, I couldn't help but read the signs and portents. I hadn't spent months at Ionia, trapping and hunting, without learning to read the news in sticks and hairs and tracks in snow. All the signs were bad. I saw it in the lean, blue-tinged faces of the arrivals struggling up from the station. Two sallow, soot-eyed women in black coats and too-thin shoes dragged a heavy suitcase between them, loaded no doubt with silverware and bric-a-brac to trade with the peasants for food. He who trades on the free market trades on the freedom of the people. A grim-jawed, silent group of workers following them had to be a food-requisitioning brigade. They neither spoke nor joked—they knew their assignment: to relieve peasants of their grain without recompense so they could feed their own starving brothers. I could see them pulling into themselves, hardening for the job ahead. A number of workers traveling alone walked up the main road, collars raised, a self-provisioning holiday. Their faces told me everything. No food in the city, no help, no end in sight.

Behold, the station. The old man helped me down from my throne of logs, the horse snorted its clouds into the white air. The days of hard travel had taken their toll on my body, I moved like a woman of eighty. Pine pitch and splinters stuck to my sheepskin and squirrelskin gloves. I held on to my snowshoes and game bag, unable to adjust to the assault of so many people. Travelers pushed past me as if I were a turnstile.

I gazed up at the arches. Here was where I went wrong. Here was my chance to begin again.

I shoved my way through the station and out onto the platform, where a train stood steaming, stinking, its wheels terrifyingly outsized. After the timeless introversion of the countryside, the noise scoured my ears, the child's jerking alarm took my breath, and I clutched my snowshoes to my breast. First- and second-class passengers paced the platform, stretching their legs and doing furtive business with the peasant women selling piroshky and roasted sunflower seeds, while third-class travelers huddled in the barn doors of the boxcars, not daring to leave the train, their wooden bunks rayed behind them like shelves in a poor shop. Everyone heading east, east, east, away from Petrograd, into the snowy countryside, toward the Urals, escaping the turmoil and starvation in the capital of Once-Had-Been. My determination wavered. It slipped, shattering against the train's iron wheels.

Perhaps the boy I'd been—Misha, that cheeky lad—would have chanced it. He had his way of staying afloat, but I couldn't conjure him now, not with the child on the way, my face gone round, my breasts past binding. I was a woman in full and there was no escaping it.

Wisdom does not consist of making the best choice among many. Wisdom is understanding when there is no choice and taking the step that must be taken, without complaints or sighs. Hoisting my small bag higher over my shoulder, I walked to the platform's end and climbed down, strapped myself into my snowshoes, and followed the rails through the fog.

A switchman's shack emerged from the milky white. I knocked at the poorly made door, the pearly gates of this sooty heaven, and swung it open without waiting for an invitation.

Inside, a blackened stove warmed the small hut—no better than a wooden crate—where four men seated on boxes played cards. The kettle boiled. Steam coated the one greasy window. But which was the switchman, the one in charge? Him, I decided—the bald one in spectacles, pencil behind ear. The other three, railwaymen: a pensioner—a little bantam cock—and two burly men, one missing an arm, his coat sleeve pinned up neatly. Firemen or mechanics, I thought, the one-armed man wounded in the line of duty, and still drawing rations. Oh, to be the boy Misha again! Misha would know how to talk to them. He would swear, tell a dirty joke. Eh, brothers! But trapped in this irrevocable female form, I had to appeal to mercy, if I could find it. I hated negotiating from weakness, but I could do it if I had to.

"Comrades. Forgive me." I spoke quickly, holding my hands in the universal language of wheedling. "I don't want to trouble you, but I don't know where else to turn. My brother was a Vikzhel man, an assistant engineer. He said if I ever needed help, to turn to the railwaymen." I rummaged in the sack and pulled out Misha's papers, presented them to the switchman. "I lost my position, a cook in a boarding house. The woman's daughter came home from Petrograd and took my place."

The bald man peered at Misha's documents. "Assistant engineer? It says he was fifteen years old." He tried to hand them back to me but I shrank away. My fictional brother was Vikzhel, a union man. They took care of their own.

"He was a good boy." I had no problem staining my face with tears. Poor Misha! "He gave me his pay. It kept us going. But he died, four weeks ago. Now I have nothing."

The switchman held the papers awkwardly, he didn't know what to do with them if I wouldn't take them back. "So what do you want from us, little comrade? We can't put you on as a fireman."

The others chuckled. Oh, so funny. How I hated men who thought what a woman did was ridiculous, what a woman needed. I wished I could pull the gun from my pocket, show him who was ridiculous. But I had to bite my tongue. "I can shovel snow, keep the tracks clean," I said, pushing on. "Cook, wash. Read. Look, I'm not asking for charity." I drew myself up to my full height, trying to appear healthy and robust, not like a pregnant girl who'd been breathing her last calories through her metaphysical skin. "I can water trains. Clean the station." That made them laugh—you were more likely to see a pig fly than a clean vokzal in Russia.


  • "[Chimes of a Lost Cathedral is] for anyone who's ever dreamed of meeting their heroes, centuries be damned."—Margaret Wappler, Los Angeles Times
  • "Brilliant...a world of furious beauty, sprawling, majestic landscapes, and erotically charged and traumatic encounters, with life and love hanging in the balance... For the readers who have followed Marina and Fitch on this long, eventful journey, the ending feels satisfying. To Marina, it feels like divine intervention--a signal of the possibility of life and happiness despite everything...Fitch makes the answer clear: Marina is remarkably brave. Her saga should inspire us all to be braver."—Ani Kokobobo, Los Angeles Review of Books
  • "We first met Fitch's passionate, independent Marina Makarova in The Revolution of Marina M...Fitch's darker, equally compelling sequel tracks Marina's perilous journey from 1919 to 1921...Marina's yearning for freedom propels her to risk everything in the dramatic final scenes."—Jane Ciabattari, (10 Smartest Beach Reads of 2019)
  • "Ceaselessly entertaining...Fitch's transporting sequel to The Revolution of Marina M. is even better than the first book...In this full-blooded feminine epic, Marina narrates her dramatic life with striking visual detail...Awash with emotion and poetic imagery...Fitch's tale channels the woman's vibrant spirit throughout. Historical-fiction fans should devour this."—Sarah Johnson, Booklist, (Starred Review)
  • "Fitch gives a 360-degree view of the suffering caused by the Bolsheviks' consolidation of power and tells a long and sweeping story without wasting a word...Our heroine reflects the genius of the Silver Age poets. Their works, personalities, and disagreements are examined as if through a jeweler's loupe."—Barbara Conaty, Library Journal
  • "A treat for fans of Russian literature...An unusual and passionate re-creation of the terrible tragedy of the Bolshevik Revolution and the timeless literary culture it produced."—Kirkus Reviews

On Sale
Aug 25, 2020
Page Count
752 pages
Back Bay Books

Janet Fitch

About the Author

Janet Fitch‘s first novel, White Oleander, a #1 bestseller and Oprah’s Book Club selection, has been translated into twenty-eight languages and was made into a feature film. Her second novel, Paint It Black, hit bestseller lists across the country and has also been made into a film. Her third novel, The Revolution of Marina M., begins an epic journey through the Russian Revolution, which concludes with Chimes of a Lost Cathedral. She lives with her husband in Los Angeles.

Learn more about this author