Aslam weaves together throughts and ideas, some of them inside his characters' heads, some outside, and sometimes you can't tell. The chilling hold of superstition over the lives of Russian Christians intrudes into Lara's mind, pp.307-08...
A blue rectangle of the ceiling stands revealed wherever a book is missing above her. They look like openings onto the afternoon sky. It was to prevent a haunting that in certain parts of Russia a dead body was carried to the church through an open window, or even through a specially cut hole in the roof. The idea was to confuse the dead person's spirit, making it more difficult for the ghost to find its way back home.
Earlier David had received a call to say that the Jalalabad police have found the head of Bihzad at last, flung into a drainage ditch in the bombing. The young man who thought he was on his way to paradise. To commemorate the baptism of Christ in the River Jordan, the Tsar - accompanied by the entire court and the leading churchmen - would emerge from the Hermitage on 6 January every year, descend the steps of the Jordan Staircase, and walk out onto the frozen Neva. A whole would have been cut through the ice, and Tsar and Metropolitan would bless the water. Children were then baptised in the icy river. What amazed the visitors from other lands was the reaction of the parents if ever a child slipped from the numbed hands of the holy men, never to be seen again. They refused to grieve because the child had gone to heaven.
This suggests a belief system packed with half truths, leaving me rueing once again the many blind alleys and false turns made by the church over the centuries.
On another note, the links implied here between the political theology, thanatology and popular practice of Christendom (in its 'Third Rome' incarnation in Moscow) and those of Islam is suggestive. Reminds me of Leithart's stimulating "Mirror of Christendom" essay.