A historical novel of subtle power and tremendous grace.


Holland offers an elegiac tale of life in Soviet Russia in his debut novel.

When Isaac Babel was arrested by the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs in 1939, his archives and manuscripts were also seized by the Soviet government. Like their author, these documents disappeared. In his quietly magnificent debut, Holland creates a Soviet functionary to rescue a few of these lost tales. Pavel Dubrov’s job description is “archivist,” but his duties as a preservationist only go so far as cataloging the seized manuscripts of writers interned in Lubyanka prison so that their words can be used as evidence against them; after this, the manuscripts are burned. Pavel accepted this job because it was a means of survival, but an encounter with Isaac Babel, an author he reveres, renders the job intolerable. Babel has been writing while in prison, and Pavel determines to rescue these new stories. This act of rebellion makes Pavel simultaneously more afraid and less afraid—more certain that he will be denounced and less concerned about being denounced. It brings him back to life and seals his doom. Holland has an unassuming, unadorned style, and he composes his story on a human scale. He contemplates the meaning of memory and the nature of truth without subjecting the reader to philosophical lectures; instead, he shows what happens to individual souls under a fascist regime. He offers no grand dénouncement of Stalin because none is needed: The mundane horrors his characters endure speak for themselves. It’s one of the great strengths of this novel that Holland does not romanticize the value of literature. There is no suggestion that art is worth more than a human life, that it is better to save Babel’s stories than it would be to save Babel himself. Pavel’s triumph is a small one, one that glows in the shadow of a much larger tragedy.

A historical novel of subtle power and tremendous grace.

Pub Date: May 8, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-385-33995-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2007

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A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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