Steeltown, USSR: Soviet Society in the Gorbachev Era

By Stephen Kotkin | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SIX

A Stalin Mausoleum:
The Past in the Present

It was, as the Russians say, no accident that in the historical novel Children of the Arbat (written in 1967, published in late 1987), one of the first literary works to come out of the drawer and sec the light of day under glasnost, Anatolii Rybakov chose to sketch a portrait of the 1930s by contrasting developments in Moscow with those of a far-off five-year-plan construction site. Nor was it by chance that Rybakov modeled his fictional Stalin-era steel plant on Magnitogorsk.

Set in the period between September 1933 and December 1934, when the Leningrad party boss Sergei Kirov was assassinated under mysterious circumstances that point to Stalin’s involvement, the novel revolves around the life of a young man, Sasha Pankratov, and his peers. Residents of the same apartment building in an exclusive central district of Moscow on a street called “the Arbat,” the children come of age in the heady era of socialist construction, just before the onset of the great terror.

In a foreshadowing of the ominous Kirov murder, Sasha, an exemplary young man dedicated wholeheartedly to the country’s grand crusade, falls under a cloud. Sasha’s arrest and exile on concocted charges raise profound moral dilemmas for his companions, who are already preoccupied with the trials of growing up, falling in love, experiencing

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