The author of that magnificent Tolstoyan epic of 20th-century Russia, Generations of Winter, continues here the saga of the Gradov family as it endures the postwar privations, the increasingly manic suspicions of Stalin and the louche sexual brigandage of secret police chief Beria. Old Gradov, the surgeon, incurs Stalin's enmity when he tells him he must change his ways in the face of deteriorating health; when he also fails to condemn the Jewish doctors accused of trying to murder the dictator, his removal to a jail cell is inevitable. Meanwhile, his grandson Boris IV, typical of postwar Soviet youth, develops a passion for sports and becomes an ace motorcycle racer on an Air Force team led by Stalin's son, Sasha. When Beria kidnaps Boris's beautiful young cousin as a prelude to his customary "courtship," that relationship comes in handy. Kirill, the politically "safe" member of the clan, is obviously destined to wind up in the (brilliantly evoked) penal colony of Kolyma, with his ever-loyal Stalinist wife Celia. As before, the tapestry is vast and richly colored, the personal and political skillfully blended, and the whole saga is suffused with a peculiar Russian blend of satire, heartfelt sentiment and surrealism. Like other contemporary Russian writers, Aksyonov seems compelled to try to penetrate into the souls of monsters like Stalin and Beria to see how and why they held his nation in thrall. Only the Dos Passos-like "interludes" of contemporary press reportage strike a too-easy sardonic note in this harrowing, transcendent panorama. (June)
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this conclusion to Aksyonov's bold saga of the Soviet era, following Generations of Winter (LJ 5/15/94), the fate of the Gradov family is finally resolved. Boris Nikitovich, long troubled by a sense of complicity with the regime, bravely stands up for purged colleagues. His son Kirill is still classed an enemy of the people but is reunited with his resolutely Bolshevik wife. Daughter Nina rarely publishes her poetry but continues to snipe at the regime as she ushers her daughter, Yolka, around Moscow. Grandson Boris, eagerly sought out by official organizations for his athletic prowess, ends up avenging Yolka's cruel seduction by Beria. With all the different plot strands, this novel occasionally feels like soap opera, but it is saved by especially well-wrought writing, crisp characterization, and Aksyonov's moral sweep. Throughout, the awful burden of living through the Stalinst era comes through. Recommended for all literary collections.-Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal"
Aksyonov continues his powerful Gradov family saga, set in the icy last years of Stalin's rule (194953). The previous installment, "Generations of Winter" (1994), movingly evoked the experience of purges, camps, and wars. Young Boris, most of whose family members have been either imprisoned or killed, hides his pain well behind the role of scion of a medical family, disporting himself with style at cocktail clubs and motorcycle races. Those pursuits and the people he encounters propel most of the novel's action and provide a backdrop for other family developments. In one subplot, Boris' grandfather, a venerable doctor, is again summoned to the Kremlin for the dangerous duty of examining the Genius of Mankind. Stalin doesn't like the diagnosis and advice to retire, and inevitably, grandfather gets swept up in the fabricated "doctor's plot." The resolutions of the Gradovs' predicaments occur almost providentially, but Aksyonov's skill in depicting the fearful atmosphere of the Stalinist phantasm is as strong as ever. A thoroughly engrossing work of historical fiction.
The sequel to Aksyonov's Generations of Winter (1994) surveys the fortunes of the Gradov family of Moscow following their ordeals during the Stalin years and WW II, then continues their story in the postwar period through Stalin's in 1953.
Aksyonov's omniscient narrator, a saturnine and jaundiced observer of his country's "progress," suavely juxtaposes his characters' fates (as in Generations) against the march of history as glimpsed in excerpts from news stories and snippets of quotation from famous and obscure persons alike (in "Intermissions" that resemble the "Camera Eye" and "Newsreel" sections of Dos Passos's USA). Most prominent are Boris Gradov IV, a military veteran like his late father Nikita, and a hopeful successor to his grandfather "in the Gradov dynasty of Russian doctors"; young Boris's aunt Nina, celebrated poet and great beauty, and her equally fetching daughter Elena, who catches the eye of a highly placed Soviet official, to her sorrow and disgrace; Nina's surviving brother Kirill, reunited, after years in prison, with his Jewish wife Cecilia (and compromised by her enduringly flamboyant Marxism); and a host of vividly rendered others who are related to the Gradovs by blood, or choice, or sheer historical accident. Stalin himself is once again a pivotal character, though the triumphant real-life portrayal here is of former secret police chief Beria, now a powerful Minister whose deviant appetites consume him as well as his victims. Aksyonov's plot turns on opportunities afforded young Boris, a talented cyclist, as the 1952 Olympics approach, and also reaches both backward to the Gradovs' past (specifically, the experiences of their adopted son Mitya Sapunov) and forward to the climactic test that the elderly Dr. Gradov must undergo, and to the courage he discovers within himself "in the lair of the KGB" and in the larger, more forgiving world outside it, into which, by sheer force of will, he emerges.
In every way equal to its distinguished predecessor, this is a triumphant conclusion (unless, as seems possible, another sequel is planned) to an indisputably major work.