THE WINTER'S HERO by Vassily Aksyonov


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 The sequel to Aksyonov's Generations of Winter (1994) surveys the fortunes of the Gradov family of Moscow following their ordeals during the Stalin years and WW II, then continues their story in the postwar period through Stalin's in 1953. Aksyonov's omniscient narrator, a saturnine and jaundiced observer of his country's ``progress,'' suavely juxtaposes his characters' fates (as in Generations) against the march of history as glimpsed in excerpts from news stories and snippets of quotation from famous and obscure persons alike (in ``Intermissions'' that resemble the ``Camera Eye'' and ``Newsreel'' sections of Dos Passos's USA). Most prominent are Boris Gradov IV, a military veteran like his late father Nikita, and a hopeful successor to his grandfather ``in the Gradov dynasty of Russian doctors''; young Boris's aunt Nina, celebrated poet and great beauty, and her equally fetching daughter Elena, who catches the eye of a highly placed Soviet official, to her sorrow and disgrace; Nina's surviving brother Kirill, reunited, after years in prison, with his Jewish wife Cecilia (and compromised by her enduringly flamboyant Marxism); and a host of vividly rendered others who are related to the Gradovs by blood, or choice, or sheer historical accident. Stalin himself is once again a pivotal character, though the triumphant real-life portrayal here is of former secret police chief Beria, now a powerful Minister whose deviant appetites consume him as well as his victims. Aksyonov's plot turns on opportunities afforded young Boris, a talented cyclist, as the 1952 Olympics approach, and also reaches both backward to the Gradovs' past (specifically, the experiences of their adopted son Mitya Sapunov) and forward to the climactic test that the elderly Dr. Gradov must undergo, and to the courage he discovers within himself ``in the lair of the KGB'' and in the larger, more forgiving world outside it, into which, by sheer force of will, he emerges. In every way equal to its distinguished predecessor, this is a triumphant conclusion (unless, as seems possible, another sequel is planned) to an indisputably major work.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-679-43274-4
Page count: 496pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1996


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