ARCHANGEL by Gerald Seymour


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Forsaking his usual crisp cynicism for a more inspirational scenario, Seymour (Harry Game, The Glory Boys) places a faceless young British engineer in a Russian gulag and turns him, not at all convincingly, into a martyr/hero--part Ivan Denisovich, part Clint Eastwood. This ""archangel"" is 30-year-old Michael Holly, nÉ Mikhail Holovich, England-raised son of ÉmigrÉs--who reluctantly agrees to do a simple drop-off job for British intelligence while visiting Moscow on business. But Holly is caught in the act; when a spy-swap plan falls through (the Russian spy dies in England), he's sent to Camp 3 of the Dubrovlag. And, while British Intelligence chats about Holly's future (will he Tell All? can they somehow free him?), Holly slowly becomes a one-man rebellion against Soviet oppression. He refuses to respond to interrogation. He engages in secret sabotage--burning an office, causing dysentery among the guards by tinkering with the water pipes. He survives the punishment isolation cell. Though maintaining a distance from the other, criminal/political inmates in the huts, the zeks, he slowly wins their respect--even that of dissident Feldstein, whose rhetoric is scorned by the practical Holly. (""What has your talking won you?"") There's an elaborate, not-very-credible escape plan: Holly and thuggish inmate Adimov manage to get free for a few hours, are then recaptured. And finally Holly will lead the prisoners--even the now-militant Feldstein--in hunger strikes, sit-down strikes, open rebellion and hostage-taking . . . and will give his own life to save that of his fellow-rebels. Unfortunately, despite a few interviews with Holly's family and ex-wife back in England, his character remains a blank throughout: there's no drama of transformation, no sense of where his vast will-power and courage come from, nothing but freedom-fighter rhetoric. And the world of the gulag is on far more devastating display in Solzhenitsyn and the many other first-person accounts--especially the stories of Varlam Shalamov. Still, though the novel as a whole is slow-moving, the action sequences are taut; those unfamiliar with zek life will get a serviceable introduction; and readers eager for uplift (anti-Soviet-style) may bring enough feeling to the novel to compensate for the fatal lack of conviction in Seymour's central characterization.

Pub Date: Oct. 18th, 1982
Publisher: Dutton