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Angel of Vengeance

The Girl Who Shot the Governor of St. Petersburg and Sparked the Age of Assassination

Ana Siljak

St. Martin's Griffin

In the Russian winter of 1878 a shy, aristocratic young woman named Vera Zasulich walked into the office of the governor of St. Petersburg, pulled a revolver from underneath her shawl, and shot General Fedor Trepov point blank.  “Revenge!,” she cried, for the governor's brutal treatment of a political prisoner. Her trial for murder later that year became Russia's "trial of the century," closely followed by people all across Europe and America. On the day of the trial, huge crowds packed the courtroom.  The cream of Russian society, attired in the finery of the day, arrived to witness the theatrical testimony and deliberations in the case of the young angel of vengeance.  After the trial, Vera became a celebrated martyr for all social classes in Russia and became the public face of a burgeoning revolutionary fervor. Dostoyevsky (who attended the trial), Turgenev, Engels, and even Oscar Wilde all wrote about her extraordinary case. Her astonishing acquittal was celebrated across Europe, crowds filled the streets and the decision marked the changing face of Russia. After fleeing to Switzerland, Vera Zasulich became Russia's most famous "terroristka," inspiring a whole generation of Russian and European revolutionaries to embrace violence and martyrdom.  Her influence led to a series of acts that collectively became part of “the age of assassinations.” In the now-forgotten story of Russia's most notorious terrorist, Ana Siljak captures Vera's extraordinary life story--from privileged child of nobility to revolutionary conspirator, from assassin to martyr to socialist icon and saint-- while colorfully evoking the drama of one of the world’s most closely watched trials and a Russia where political celebrities held sway.

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Angel of Vengeance
CHAPTER 1Assassin 
 
Zasulich was not a terrorist. She was the angel of vengeance, and not of terror. She was a victim who voluntarily threw herself into the jaws of the monster in order to cleanse the honour of the party from a moral outrage. Yet this occurrence gave to the Terrorism a most powerful impulse. It illuminated it with its divine aureola, and gave to it the sanction of sacrifice and of public opinion.--SERGEI KRAVCHINSKII, UNDERGROUND RUSSIA1On the evening of January 23, 1878, a few close friends gathered spontaneously at Evtikhii Karpov's small,
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REVIEWS

Praise for Angel of Vengeance

Shortlisted for the 2008 Charles Taylor Prize

 

“This is a terrific book, retracing the tragic and contradictory course of nineteenth-century Populism through the life-story of Russia's first female assassin, Vera Zasulich. Siljak's fluent narrative lives and breathes the passions and the painful contradictions of Russian life.”--Lesley Chamberlain, author of Lenin’s Private War and Nietzsche in Turin

 

"Angel of Vengeance has tremendous narrative drive, combined with an epic, Tolstoyan scope....Pre-revolutionary Russia's contradictions, its freedoms and constraints, are superbly drawn. Such deftness is rare in an academic historian. So too is the author's sense of humour. Angel of Vengeance is a very good book."--Globe and Mail (Canada)

 

"A vivid portrait of Russia in the second half of the 19th century."--Russian Life Magazine

Reviews from Goodreads

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  • Ana Siljak

  • ANA SILJAK is a professor of history at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario.  She received her Ph.D. in Russian History from Harvard University, and specializes in the subjects of pre-Revolutionary Russia and the history of terrorism.  She lives in Kingston with her husband and two children.

  • Ana Siljak Photo: Dan Roggi
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    Angel of Vengeance

    The Girl Who Shot the Governor of St. Petersburg and Sparked the Age of Assassination

    Ana Siljak

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