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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.
carried the basket, and the mushroomers we met were touched, praising me for my kindness and care; but I knew that I was the blind one and Grandfather II saw what he was doing, saw his own intentions, invisible to me. In the woods on a hot day a spiderweb stuck to my face, and I thought that the web was the materialization of Grandfather II’s plans, and I removed it, washing with black musty water from ground puddles, just to keep from feeling those threads; in the early twilight—we could go out
separately; live the way survivors do, stunned by having survived and forever maintaining the apartness of survivors. I wanted to learn about Grandfather II’s past, but all I could manage I already knew; I was his guide, I walked the same roads, I put his few letters in the mailbox; there was only one area where he would not let me in: his passion for fishing. He went to the pond alone and returned alone; it was wholly his time. Once I crept after him, but halfway there he heard me and ordered
you. You look not at her anymore but at how her life lives inside her, perhaps unfamiliar to her as well; how the blood ebbs and flows, the blush grows, the hair curls. This quotidian nature of her body becomes precious and necessary; you want to take her hand to feel her pulse: the beating of the heart that was conceived in her mother’s body, appearing out of nothing, out of a few cells. You know that no one was ever closer to you than she is; but even she is not close. They bring the fish,
that has it own, long life of millions of years; searching for the key to the forces of nature; searching for the accelerator of decay, in a sense the philosopher’s stone commensurate with the philosophy of the new age that seeks means of destruction rather than construction; methods of stopping history, ending time. Uranium, an element named for the castrated god, the god of time who gave up his place to Cronus and by disappearing made possible the change of generations of the gods—uranium is a
along the river three or four times beyond the limit of the metal’s exhaustion, repainting but not repairing, and the metal gave up first, while the baked paint survived. The tugs were to the side of the barges, six boats: “ … omsom … lets,” “Sha …. ter,” “Gornya … ” “Pogranichn … Zapol … ,” “Kap … tan P … asolov,” and “Boe … ” is what could be read on their sides, as if the names were being transmitted by Morse code with a bad connection. I walked from one to another and found the only dinghy