Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Defining What Was Heroic in Stalinist Russia

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Defining What Was Heroic in Stalinist Russia

Article excerpt

The Winter's Hero

By Vassily Aksyonov, Translated by John Glad

Random House 428 pp., $27.50 'The Winter's Hero," by Russian emigre writer Vassily Aksyonov, is set in the waning years of Stalin's rule. Individual fear of random, state-sponsored terror and the sometimes torturous mental confusion of those times are brilliantly, if at times horrifyingly, recreated. The author successfully combines metaphysical and surreal elements of the novel with good, straightforward storytelling. This is a story that seems to have its roots in 19th-century Russian literature where sin, guilt, and repentance play prominent roles. Its worldview is a Russia caught in the grip of a long winter of totalitarianism, and this is where the heroism of its characters must be found. The story starts, appropriately, in a frozen gulag. Kirill Gradov, a minor hero in the novel, has just been released from a hard labor camp in the Russian Far East. After his prison camp conversion to Christianity, he finds himself struggling to regain "everything that had survived the journey through three decades of godless living and atheistic delirium." But in postwar Moscow, where most of the story takes place, times are good. Stalin himself, "a personality of exceptional parameters," is running the country. Boris Gradov, grandson of the famous physician of the same name, has returned home from the war with a Zuntag motorcycle and Horch automobile. He is young and dashing - a member of a family prominent in the Moscow intelligentsia. Boris's self-absorption seems a typical trait of the Gradov clan. The patriarch of the family, Boris Gradov III, occupies the moral center of the novel. He is an aging physician who is haunted by his complicity in the medical murder of a Soviet civil war hero in the 1920s. He finds his peace after making a conscious decision to stop fearing Stalin, and becomes an unbending teller of hard truths in a society built entirely on lies. In one of the novel's most penetrating episodes, the elder Gradov is called to the Kremlin to give Stalin a physical examination. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.