It was about two weeks ago that I met a certain gentleman in a church in Tôkyô. He was about 60 and from his pronounciation I concluded he came from some country of the Commonwealth, perhaps New Zealand. After we had chatted for a while he asked me if I knew “The Ringing Cedars”. It was a book series from Russia. I had never heard of it before. He pulled out a book from his bag and told me that it was probably the most important writing of the last ten years. The title was “Anastasia”, the first volume of the “The Ringing Cedars” written by a Russian author called Vladimir Megré. He went on praising its life-changing messages and that one of his friends had even thrown away his whole library after he had read it. It already sold millions in various countries, triggering a revolution of Bible-compatible spirituality and eco-awareness. People give up their city lives to start self-reliant farming in harmony with nature by reading “Anastasia”, or rather by following the instructions given by the mysterious woman of the same name whose encounter with the author is explained in the book.
The Amazon introduction sums it up neatly:
“Anastasia”, the first book of the Ringing Cedars Series, tells the story of entrepreneur Vladimir Megre’s trade trip to the Siberian taiga in 1995, where he witnessed incredible spiritual phenomena connected with sacred ‘ringing cedar’ trees. He spent three days with a woman named Anastasia who shared with him her unique outlook on subjects as diverse as gardening, child-rearing, healing, Nature, sexuality, religion and more. This wilderness experience transformed Vladimir so deeply that he abandoned his commercial plans and, penniless, went to Moscow to fulfil Anastasia’s request and write a book about the spiritual insights she so generously shared with him. True to her promise this life-changing book, once written, has become an international best-seller and has touched hearts of millions of people world-wide.
And the English translator claims:
[These books] penetrate one’s thinking and feelings with the gentle force of a divinely-inspired treatise — a treatise on not only the meaning of human life, but much more. I would even go so far as to call it a revelation…
He offered to give me the book, as long as I would pass it along or give it back to him in case I did not like it.
Being quite a bit puzzled by that man’s enthusiasm, as well as the exuberant readers’ comments on the back cover I couldn’t make much sense of it initially. There are many books out there, and there’s no shortage of spiritual companions. But since he seemed to be a man of certain position and not just anybody I decided to give it a chance. Besides, after all he had said I was genuinely curious. Who knows, maybe it had something interesting to tell. I promised to read it and let him know my opinion later. When we parted he said: “This book describes the instruments for world peace.”
Well, “Anastasia” made quite an impression on me. I did some light research on the internet to find more about its background. Hoping that my opinion can assist people who get in touch with the “Ringing Cedars”, I’ve decided to post the letter I wrote to that gentleman when I sent his copy back to him.
This is Fuji. […] I am hereby sending you back the book that you offered me to read, “Anastasia” by Vladimir Megré. As I had promised you on that day, I read it through until the end and let you hereby know my opinion. […] I finished it in three days.
It was a quick task since the language used is pretty undemanding, and because my growing weariness with the unimaginative ideas presented finally gave way to the desire to know just how bad this book really is. Because it is really, really bad. Ridiculously bad. I even claim with some certainty that this peace of “literature” must be among the worst books I have ever come across so far. Its style is poor, the plot an absolute joke, the “wisdom” platitudes not even worth discussing. I could end my letter right here, but since I made the effort to waste my time with this stack of paper I shall joyfully indulge in mooting just some of my observations in detail.
First of all, the prose in this book is blundering, despite the claims that its composition was somehow “guided” by Anastasia’s super powers or even includes “patterns and formulations” that will heal people. I’m not sure under which influence Mr. Megré was during the drafting of this concoction, but it was surely not Anastasia’s magic. Maybe I should be more forgiving, as this is Megré’s first attempt in book-writing, and I might be quite spoiled by being familiar with the works of actual writers such as Orhan Pamuk or Salman Rushdie. Still, it’s amusing that there are people (including the translator) who deem the writers’s style as “poetic”. Campy would be the word I see most fitting. The whole book reads like something composed by a teenager on an esoteric high. “Anastasia”‘s amateurish style surely appeals to readers with a poor literary taste and should be kept away from bookstores for this reason alone.
As for the content, the book sets its own bar quite high, but delivers nothing more than an unintentionally funny mixture of archconservative values and New Age “philosophies”. But overlaying all of “Anastasia”‘s uninspired banalities there is this really embarassing disclosure of Mr. Megré’s chauvinist phantasies.
It doesn’t take a Freud to immediately recognize the author’s revealing some of his sexual complexes. Perhaps he was going through some mid-life crisis at the time of writing. My best guess is that a) his somewhat Christian-founded upbringing has created a strained attitude towards his own sexuality (“Sex is very bad”), and b) that because of that he has been quite frustrated with his sex life so far, especially when it comes to his wife, and c) he has a bad conscience as he cannot stop phantasizing about extra-marital erotic adventures with younger, attractive women and thus d) blames those younger attractive women for causing him so much unfulfilled carnal desires, leading him to e) imagining an innocent model girl into which he puts all of his unsatisified ideals. In other words: Anastasia, the princess, the fairy, the only one not spoiled by lipsticks and *gasp* miniskirts. So… an unearthly attractive blondie who spends her time frolicking around naked in the lawless taiga, giving up her virginity to the libido of a strange middle-aged business man all the while saying that women should choose wisely about their partners instead of “immediately” becoming “fornicators”? Ahem… Of course, this girl who in the morning dances like a ballerina and lets her body become “covered with what appears to be a moist cream” is able to let Mr. Megré experience mind-blowing sexual pleasures. Oh, I forgot she catwalks like a super-model and has got a telepathic power ray.
Now, let’s leave the author’s self-satirizing inner contradictions about women aside. Remembering some of the “Ayla” novels by Jean Auel, half-way through the book I thought that it was meant as a fantasy tale, if not a very mediocre one. (A band of squirrels serving a forest girl walnuts at fingersnap? Come on.) Unfortunately it drags on with ever more of Anastasia’s crude musings. For a book that claims to present “shocking revelations… so significant that they are changing the course of our destiny and rocking scientific and religious circles to the core” its imaginative scope is – to put it friendly – stubbornly shallow. Megré doesn’t seem to have read many books in his life that could have helped him shape a richer imagination. How sad.
As for those parts related to science, religion and society, it is too wearisome to seriously answer the absurdities that fill this botch job. In order to lend his untenable world views some kind of credibility the author – being a non-academic – sees no other choice than to invent an unearthly fantasy character privy to “divinely-inspired”, “secret knowledge”. It makes them conveniently elevated from criticism and free to devalue any rational counter-argument that would prevent weaker-minded readers to be lulled into Megré’s hubris of esoteric gibberish, including conspiracy (mysterious “Western special-interest groups” steered by “forces of darkness”, [I’m glad he didn’t say “Jewish”]), witchcraft-style gardening (perhaps inspired by Rudolph Steiner), anti-feminism (because women are so dangerous), astrology and random Bible shreds. Even though I am quite critical of the current industrialized capitalist system which globalization is carrying to the ends of the earth, the romantic notion that everything will be good again when we simply go back to “nature” and anesthetize ourselves with some rudimentary form of “spirituality” is an insult to the reader’s intellect.
Now, I want to let you know that I consider myself a Christian mystic. I am deeply inspired by the lifeworks of spiritual persons such as Hildegard von Bingen, Frère Roger and Andrej Tarkovsky. I also learn from the creation, especially the forest and the stars. Thus, I am quite open to all kinds of unusual religious ideas. However, I don’t see how any mentally sound and educated person with a healthy self-esteem and some experience as a Christian could be dazed by “Anastasia” to a degree that one would throw away all other books. Only people deprived of true spiritual experience could be fascinated by this pathetic New Age nonsense. It is very sad to note the readers’ comments on the first page. One of it goes: “In my life I’ve never finished one book I started.” This alone should speak volumes about the target audience of “Anastasia”.
I do not know enough about Russia to give a founded assessment as to how this book could have become a hit there. For now I have to suspect that decades of communism and another decade of capitalistic confusion have created a devastating spiritual vacuum that some Russians are willing to fill with just any kind of New Age thought.
Still, one could argue that the book has succeeded in bringing a number of people back to their datchas. It is certainly positive that people start eco villages and think about a sustainable future. The bad thing is that no fairy or superwoman is going to save the world, not to mention heal peoples’ illnesses (the potentially dangerous health advice of this book is a point I won’t touch this time). “Anastasia”, as silly and obscene as it may be, carries a delusion: a magical world in which people receive power from the planets, bears perform saltos and cockroaches clean up tables. This is not just stupid, it’s unhealthy – for the mind and for the body.
I therefore send you back this book, hoping that it will find its righteous way to the garbage bin. […]
I really had to hold myself back not to use the word “bullshit” in every second line.
When you read the readers’ comments on Amazon and look at the numerous websites and YouTube videos dedicated to the Ringing Cedars it seems that “Anastasia” has really inititated a cult following. I think I spent the whole week depressed just from realizing that the minds of millions of people could be captured by this half-boiled piece of nonsense. The official website of The Ringing Cedars alone makes you questioning a lot of things. Maybe there is an Anastasia, pouring her brain-washing spell to empoverished Russians…
Anyhow, there actually might be more to this story than just a tasteless scheme to sell tons of cedar oil. Some people on Amazon and YouTube suggest that Vladimir Megré has a criminal record and that the Anastasia books are his wicked scam to keep the Rubles rolling. This seems fairly reasonable. Another interesting thought is offered by a Financial Times article by columnist Susan Richards. Her insights on the Russian “cosmist” school of thought offer some explanation why this could become an influential bestseller there. She even goes so far as to suspect a government conspiracy behind it, doubting Megré’s authorship, while remaining not completeley negative about the “back to the datcha” movement which “Anastasia” successfully revitalizes.
For now I post this entry as a warning. Whenever you see one of these books around, be careful. Otherwise you’ll end up like the bunch of Americans who got so convinced by Anastasia they founded their own recluse eco village “Shambhala-Shasta” and produce abominations such as these…