Journeying across the tundra on a search through his past, a young Russian is emotionally undone by horrific remnants of gulag atrocities—and the ease with which those crimes were systematically wiped from the national consciousness.
"All the executions, all the murders were forgotten, an entire era had settled to the bottom of memory," laments the unnamed narrator, a child of perestroika. The story pivots on his relationship with the blind dacha neighbor who raised him as his guardian. A coldly detached man with a mysterious past (he claims he was a bookkeeper), "Grandfather II" projects the quality of "being dead inside, unconnected to the world." The narrator, who as a boy received a blood transfusion from him after suffering a life-threatening dog bite, has always been uncomfortable carrying the old man's unearthly essence inside him. That becomes an even greater burden when he learns who Grandfather II was and inherits the things he left behind. Eschewing dialogue, the book packs a wicked emotional punch through fierce poetic imagery and long, relentless streams of consciousness. Real-life history provides an endless supply of disturbing images: skulls, stacked corpses, permafrozen bodies, trucks "carrying bones covered with a red-stained tarp." For the narrator, nature's capacity for turning "monstrous"—as it does with a lake that looks like Lenin's profile—is equally unsettling. By placing us in inhumanity's long, shiver-inducing shadow, and opening a fresh window on the state's efforts to wipe the gulag era from history, Lebedev takes his place beside Solzhenitsyn and other great writers who have refused to abide by silence.
Lebedev's courageous and devastating first novel, published in Russia in 2011, applies modern insight and poetic force to atrocities past and to his country's unspoken campaign to remove them from history.