In this conclusion to Rybakov's acclaimed "Children of the Arbat" trilogy, Sasha Pankratov, who had been condemned to the Gulag, finds himself in internal exile in a dreary city far from Moscow. Here he meets up with his old companion, Gleb, and works as a dance instructor, just trying to maintain a low profile, until the Germans attack the Soviet Union and every last citizen is called upon to protect the Motherland. Interwoven are accounts of the effort of Varya, Sasha's old flame, to help their friend Lena-now deemed an enemy of the people-and of Stalin's misperception of the Nazi threat. Rybakov paints a sweeping portrait of Stalinist times that does keep one reading, but it's too bad that the shadow of Soviet realism falls so heavily over his prose. The writing is absolutely pedestrian, and though Rybakov must be valued as a chonicler of the Soviet Terror, none of the terror comes through here. Buy where the preceding volumes were popular. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 11/15/95.]-Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal"
Rybakov brings his Children of the Arbat trilogy ("Children of the Arabat", 1988, and "Fear", 1992) to a powerful and moving conclusion. As in the earlier books, the experiences of Sasha Pankratov, now a tank commander in the Russian army, are interwoven with a large cast of characters, including Sasha's childhood friends from Moscow and historical personages, such as Beria, Litvinov, Trotsky, and, above all, Stalin. The portrait of Stalin as a man bent on destroying enemies real and imagined is both chilling and unforgettable. Stalin's accelerating megalomania and the Nazi invasion of Russia frame the novel, but the real theme is how the ordinary lives of men and women are lost in the whirlwind of history. "You essentially haven't lived," Sasha's mother tells him, "you've suffered." The bland, understated quality of the translation contrasts a bit uncomfortably with the dramatic events of the novel, and it is often difficult to keep the many characters from blurring together (a cast list would have been useful), but this is a fitting (if totally depressing) end to a searing account of life and death in Stalinist Russia.