Boris Ivanov is a political pragmatist who knows how to protect his family. But there are interlopers in Boris's family circle: his best friend Anton has wantonly adopted a skinny little orphan child he found on the Moscow train, and no good can come of it. And his own friendship with Jack Brandon, an American, may be advantageous for the present ...
Boris Ivanov is a political pragmatist who knows how to protect his family. But there are interlopers in Boris's family circle: his best friend Anton has wantonly adopted a skinny little orphan child he found on the Moscow train, and no good can come of it. And his own friendship with Jack Brandon, an American, may be advantageous for the present, but he must be careful...Not that Boris is immune to dangerous quixotic gestures. How else to explain his decision to recommend Irina, the cleaner at the Smolny, where he works, to take part in the expedition of the Chelyuskin into the Arctic Circle. Who could have guessed that their ship would be crushed by the ice and that those who returned, would come back as heroes, their lives forever changed? But the encircling ice is moving ever closer. Stalin is beginning to turn against a city he never much liked, and against Sergei Kirov, his old favourite. And the German army will soon approach. Loyalties, beliefs, love and family ties: all will be tested to the limit in a fight to see who will survive one of the most crushing moments the world will ever know. But can the soul survive as well as the body? Can the dead speak?
This is a deeply impressive novel. It follows the lives of a small number of characters living in Leningrad/St Petersburg from 1934 to 1942. The underlying Russian culture, Stalin's purges and the appalling suffering of the Siege of Leningrad are all seen through the prism of the lives of these central characters. The problems of individual will, self-determination and trying to preserve your individual humanity in a totalitarian society are keenly explored. A certain amount remains a mystery; the history and the thoughts of the "orphan," Anya, for instance - a central character who remains an enigma.
I found it difficult to decide if this was a great novel or just a very good one. I think, overall, it is a great one. Perhaps some of the characters do not completely come alive and there is much more you would have loved to have known. But it is already a 540-page novel and some mystery and wonder is a good thing.
Slovo presents a thoroughly memorable set of characters, events and plot which made a deep impression on me.
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