THE LAST RED AUGUST by Alexei Malashenko


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 A comic-opera primer on the anti-Gorbachev coup in August 1989. Boris Kulik's secretary Nadya, poking around in her boss's wastebasket, finds papers speaking of an impending coup and swipes them to give to her boyfriend, liberal journalist Oleg Bukin. But she's observed, apprehended, and killed before she can pass them on. Oleg's Democratic Russia colleague Andrei Georgievich, inferring from his old-guard Papa, Georgi Alekseevich, that Gorbachev's days are numbered, meets with Oleg to compare notes, but Oleg's run down by a car on the way out of his meeting with American newspaperman Dale Cooper, who's mugged and drugged in a hospital before he can investigate. As Andrei and his girlfriend Tanya are being arrested and held outside Moscow (but not killed, thanks to Papa's frantic deals with his fellow-conspirators) by the men who killed Nadya, Cooper manages to pass the word to Marina, his nurse, who manages to alert academic deputy Vikenty Udaltsov before she's locked up. Then the story turns from satire to outright farce. The coup starts; the coup ends (in drolly successive chapters); the conspirators (after first taking to the airwaves looking like ``a bunch of kids chasing out-of- bounds soccer balls for a professional team'') scramble for shelter, unaware that nobody cares who they were; Papa, despondent because Andrei will have nothing to do with him, throws himself in front of a train; and that's all, folks. Aided by spy-novelist Olcott's deadpan translation, Malashenko generally succeeds in balancing melodrama with comedy, though there are times when this first novel reads an awful lot like Friday the Thirteenth for grown-ups.

Pub Date: May 10th, 1993
ISBN: 0-684-19571-2
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Scribner
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1993