THE COMMISSAR by Grigory Vinokur


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Soviet novels of the past decade resemble ironclad vessels without bearings, dreadnoughts going nowhere. In Nekrasov, Fedin, Ehrenburg, what seems to be ""revolt"" winds up accommodation; the hero's protesting (apparently) Stalinism, perhaps something more fundamental. In the end, however, he's as ""positive"" as a May Day banner. These ideological toe-dances also resemble scenarios, especially the dialogue. This one, the work of a defector, a former Party bigwig, offers: ""'Those who will not join the kolkhoz of their own free will,' she sobbed, ""are tortured until they submit,"" and so forth. Being a roman a clef, ""a fictional treatment of events that actually occurred,"" the novel has its scandalous aspects, political and otherwise, and throughout ""the dread presence of Stalin himself!"" peers like Banquo's ghost. Actually it has some very arresting moments (including a choice glimpse of Stalin the Seducer), and the long narrative extending from the late '20's into WWII covers forced collectivization, the Jewish question, the purging of the Old Guard, the population deportations, etc., with a good deal of obvious authenticity. Essentially it traces the fortunes of two friends: one a writer (no doubt the author), an idealist who cannot accept totalitarianism; the other, a Stalin aide, who can, but in doing so loses his manhood, even to the point of impotence. The writer has various romances, disillusionments and ordeals (at Stalingrad, for instance), and an interminable crise de conscience which he finally solves by fleeing the country. This decision, plus character sketches and interludes on the Tolstoyan plane, set the novel off from the above mentioned types, but alas not far enough.

Publisher: Twayne