In one of the first twenty-first century Russian novels to probe the legacy of the Soviet prison camp system, a young man travels to the vast wastelands of the Far North to uncover the truth about a shadowy neighbor who saved his life, and whom he knows only as Grandfather II.Read more...
In one of the first twenty-first century Russian novels to probe the legacy of the Soviet prison camp system, a young man travels to the vast wastelands of the Far North to uncover the truth about a shadowy neighbor who saved his life, and whom he knows only as Grandfather II. What he finds, among the forgotten mines and decrepit barracks of former gulags, is a world relegated to oblivion, where it is easier to ignore both the victims and the executioners than to come to terms with a terrible past. This disturbing tale evokes the great and ruined beauty of a land where man and machine worked in tandem with nature to destroy millions of lives during the Soviet century. Emerging from today's Russia, where the ills of the past are being forcefully erased from public memory, this masterful novel represents an epic literary attempt to rescue history from the brink of oblivion.
Sergei Lebedev was born in Moscow in 1981 and worked for seven years on geological expeditions in northern Russia and Central Asia. His first novel, Oblivion, has been translated into many languages.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-01-18
- Reviewer: Staff
Lebedev's debut novel evokes, in powerful poetic prose, the Soviet prison work camps of the Arctic north, posing a heartfelt challenge to those who prefer to forget. Like the author, the novel's unnamed narrator is a Russian geologist with a passion for words. The story follows his attempt to uncover the past of an old blind neighbor he calls Grandfather II. No one knows much about Grandfather II, who keeps mostly to himself, his deep attachment to the narrator one notable exception. When, as a boy, the narrator balks at his first haircut, Grandfather II takes charge of the scissors. When the boy encounters a frothing dog, Grandfather II beats it with his cane. When the boy needs a transfusion, Grandfather II gives his blood. After Grandfather II dies, the narrator finds a letter that prompts a journey to Siberia, where he observes cold white expanses scarred by logged forests, used-up mines, deserted barracks, neglected roads, abandoned vehicles. Grandfather II's past is rooted in this landscape: he played a key role at a prison camp quarry. The narrator facing the facts of Grandpa II's life serves as a metaphor for Russians dealing with their sullied heritage. The determination of Kulak laborers, the desperation of a fugitive prisoner, the desolation of an empty library, the tragedy of a boy and his whistle, are among the many images capturing the impoverished state of the land, the people, and the national spirit, left by an unjust and undeniable part of Russian history. (Jan.)