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Spirit Wrestler: A novel

John Randall Struloeff, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Spirit Wrestler is an historical novel narrated by Mikhail Mikhailovich Strelyaev. He was born in 1868 in a village in western Russia, the son of an atheist father and a Doukhobor mother. After the death of his parents, he lives the first half of his life in the southern Caucasus Mountains among his mother's people, the Doukhobors (or “Spirit-Wrestlers,” a religious sect). When the Doukhobor leader dies, the new leader, Peter Vasilievich Verigin, is exiled and, via messengers, takes them on an ever-intensifying journey toward strict fundamentalism, attracting government abuse. When the sect withdraws from military conscription and burns their arms, the government decimates their community through incarceration, exile, rape, and confiscation of their communal lands. Leo Tolstoy hears of their plight, arranges safe passage for them to Canada, and writes his final novel, Resurrection , in order to donate the proceeds to the Doukhobor emigration. ^ Verigin is released from exile and returns to the others in Saskatchewan. The community begins to fracture, causing the rise of the Sons of Freedom, a sub-sect that opposes Verigin. Most of the Doukhobor lands are confiscated by the government because of disputes. A majority of the Doukhobors then move with Verigin to Brilliant, British Columbia. Life is good for a time, but the old fractures re-emerge and Verigin is killed under mysterious circumstances in 1924. The Doukhobor community begins a quick decline. ^ The narrator is carried through this sequence of dramatic events—at first by living near a Doukhobor village, then by marrying a Doukhobor woman, and finally by becoming a part of their community—allowing the reader to glimpse what it was like to be a Doukhobor at this time. Throughout the novel he struggles with his own faith, just as the Doukhobors struggle with their communal sense of themselves and their ever-changing religion practices. In the end, he is haunted by the mysterious saga in which he played a consistent part, and he suggests that he could very well have been part of the demise of the Doukhobors, possibly even the murderer of Verigin himself. ^

Subject Area

Literature, Modern|Literature, American

Recommended Citation

Struloeff, John Randall, "Spirit Wrestler: A novel" (2005). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3180819.