Shortlisted for the Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction
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.
"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
"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. Zasulich, born into the conscience-stricken gentry, was, like so many terrorists through the ages, an outsider who grew up keen to fulfill her calling as a martyr. But a bullet that went astray and an extraordinary trial turned her involuntarily into a national heroine. Besides winning hearts and minds in her country, Zasulich's case helped spark a wave of terrorism abroad, awakening the interest of writers like Henry James and the young Oscar Wilde."—Lesley Chamberlain, author of Lenin's Private War and Nietzsche in Turin
"Siljak presents a history of Vera Zasulich . . . in an engaging, fluid style. Readers receive a full portrait of a woman who wanted nothing more than to become a martyr for her cause but instead became a national symbol and celebrity, praised by members of all social classes in Russia and known worldwide."—Library Journal
Reviews from Goodreads
Angel of Vengeance
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...