The Permanent Press, $18.00, 288 pages
Alla Avilova’s Revelation of Fire is a novel about the history of an unknown early Russian manuscript, called Revelation of Fire, a religious text that gives its disciples mysterious powers. Although the synopsis sounds like a Dan Brown-style thriller, Avilova is much more influenced by Russian literature. The narrative jumps back and forth between Bert, a Dutch Russian literature scholar, and the first-hand accounts of the owners of the book, whose history Bert uncovers in his drive to learn about the text. Bert is helped by Nadya, the librarian on duty when he discovers the text, and who is also drawn to the manuscript for her own reasons.
Avilova is a Russian living in the Netherlands, and this book has previously been published in Russian, French, and German. American readers will notice a decidedly European sensibility. Instead of the quick narrative of action so often portrayed in action films and books that imitate them, the story moves through conversations, and interactions between people. Even the flashback scenes, which include bandits raiding a monastery, are presented through one man’s reaction rather than through a bloody raid. This style can occasionally make the book read somewhat slowly, however, the story of the text, and how it gets to the end of its journey is gripping, making even a slow reader willing to stick with the novel to the end.