Publishers Weekly - Publisher's WeeklyThe third and final volume in the saga of Soviet life under Stalin that began with Children of the Arbat and continued with Fear has the same virtues as its very impressive predecessors: a swift-moving narrative that shifts smoothly from close-up detail to panoramic social vistas, an appealing pair of star-crossed lovers at the heart of the tale and an uncanny knack for penetrating the minds of officialdom from Stalin himself on down to the lowest apparatchik. Rybakov was probably a man much like his hero, Sasha Pankratov-skeptical, even playful, but courageous in a pinch and willing always to see as much good as possible in those around him. In Dust and Ashes, Pankratov leads an uneasy life as a political outcast, separated from his beloved Varya until his imagined sins against the state are forgotten in the war against the Germans and he achieves a kind of dark apotheosis. Throughout, his adventures across a wide swath of Soviet society are compelling and convincing. Rybakov swiftly sketches opportunistic artists, cynical officials, mourning mothers, people who perform almost unnoticed good deeds in the surrounding darkness. And the interior musings of Stalin are just as surrealistically self-justifying as one imagines a paranoid dictator's would be. Brilliantly translated by Bouis (is there a better Russian literary translator around?), this novel sets the seal on one of the masterworks of contemporary Russian literature. (Mar.)
Library JournalIn 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"
Nancy PearlRybakov 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.
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