(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

The Birds Fall Down is an extraordinary amalgam. It contains elements of suspense, spy, and political novels. In the long train conversation, West conveys the revolutionary ferment taking place in pre-World War I Russia and on the European continent, and she is able to show how human character evolves out of the practice of politics and political intrigue. When Chubinov confronts Count Nikolai, two different interpretations of the world collide. What Chubinov tells the Count, the Count regards as inconceivable, for he trusts neither Chubinov’s unstable personality nor his political judgment. Thus it is up to Laura to filter through Chubinov’s long, agitated speeches exactly what she can accept. Yet the very length of the conversation, and its twists and turns, builds suspense. Will Count Nikolai finally admit he has misplaced his trust in Kamensky? How will Laura be able to contend with the welter of information Chubinov showers upon her?

Although Laura has her own firsthand experience with Kamensky in Paris, when she visits her grandfather, that experience occurs before Chubinov’s revelation. Consequently, she has to rethink Kamensky’s actions and her impressions of him through Chubinov’s description of Kamensky’s other life. The result is a fascinating reenactment and dissection of what was presented at the outset of the novel. In the very act of listening to Chubinov, Laura and the reader of the novel have to reevaluate everything...

(The entire section is 592 words.)