It is Moscow, in 1939. The great author Isaac Babel is spending his last days in the infamous Lubyanka prison, forbidden to write.
His final works have been consigned to the young archivist Pavel Dubrov, who must destroy them.
But Pavel makes a reckless decision in the face of a vast bureaucracy of evil: he will save the stories of the writer he so admires, whatever the cost.
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 256 pages
- Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
- Publication Date: 18/08/2008
- Category: Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945)
- ISBN: 9780747593201
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Review by psutto
Audio versionPavel is an archivist at the notorious Lubyanka prison, a former school teacher who left his former position in some disgrace (which you do not know why until later in the book). Set in the months leading up to WW2 we see Pavel at work, notably dealing with the records of Isaac Babel a writer who he admires and respects but who is in the prison. Pavel commits a small but significant act by saving some of Babel’s work from the eventual furnace that is the fate of all the works in the archive. The book is an unremitting depressive understated tale in which we contemplate what it would be like to live in constant fear of faceless men in dark cars taking you off to prison for, essentially, thought crimes. The author also asks us to imagine being a lover of literature being forced to catalogue the stories, poems and sketches of “dissdents” and taking them once they are no longer needed to be burned. I think I may have been too depressed to continue with this book if it wasn’t for the excellent vocal talents of Nick Rawlinson who narrated and brought the book alive.Overall - Stalin’s Russia is brought depressingly to life in this tale which is shot through with many shades of grey and redolent of decay.