THE COURTYARD by Arkady Lvov


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Ambitious, large-scale historical fiction revolving around the inhabitants of an Odessa apartment building between 1936 and 1956, by Soviet ÉmigrÉ Lvov. Allegedly smuggled out of the Soviet Union in microfilm copy hidden in a shoe-shine kit, this introduces a cross-section of Soviet society, high and low, within the wall's of Lvov's microcosm. The years covered here represent the Stalinist era of consolidation and repression, and Lvov's focus is on the drama of a boisterous population shifting under Stalin's thumb. Seniors, workers, housewives, professionals, and wiseacres all come uncle r the humorless gaze of Comrade Degtyar overseeing periodic meetings of the workers' presidium. But Lvov's gallery of characters--crude, earthy, steeped in cynicism--provide the emotional current against which Degtyar and the state's burgeoning technocracy can be measured: neighborhood complaints lead to an inspection by the workers' committee of a comrade's ludicrous nail-making machine; plans to renovate a laundry-room break down into fights and flirtations. Even the wider arc of political events--the Japanese invasion of Mongolia and the German invasion of Odessa itself--doesn't permanently disperse the community, nor dampen its scrapping wits. Propelled along more by external historical events than by internal plotting, Lvov's characters nonetheless achieve vivid definition, a feat hard to achieve in a novel of this scope. Also of note is Lvov's ability to sustain, throughout a chronicle of widespread suffering and abandoned hopes, a tone of mock comradely good cheer that, with a vein of frosty irony, undercuts the surface narrative. Laced with satire and grim humor, this book won't play to a general audience, but it will be of interest to readers looking for a new addition to the growing body of Soviet ÉmigrÉ writing.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1988
Publisher: Doubleday