The great Russian satirist (Moscow 2042, 1987, etc.) observes a devoted Stalinist’s difficult passage through the years that follow the toppling of her idol.
When Khruschchev’s 1962 speech denounces Stalin for anti-Leninist tendencies, former District Party Secretary Aglaya Stepanovna Revkina cries foul. A true believer of formidable steadfastness, Aglaya had even, during the glorious war years, blown up her husband Andrei in an explosion engineered to repel German invaders. Removed from her post by newer apparatchiks, Aglaya broods, frets, meditates revenge—and when the statue of Stalin installed at her behest in her hometown of Dolgov is slated for demolition, Aglaya persuades a phlegmatic tractor-driver to deliver the cast-iron monument to her apartment. Voinovich, a character in his own novel, chats amiably with the reader as he explores Aglaya’s subsequent adventures and relationships, offering deadpan deconstructions of all things Soviet, while referring readers (really quite a bit too coyly) to his earlier books—notably his classic Life & Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin (1976). This frequently palls, but Voinovich offers a beguiling host of vividly imagined supporting characters, including Aglaya’s nemesis Shubkin, a labor camp survivor and novelist (and Solzhenitsyn caricature) whose inflammatory novella The Timber Camp makes him both famous and notorious; wily political survivor Admiral Makarov; idealistic war hero (and Aglaya’s aging admirer) General Burdalakov; and, in the climactic subplot that shapes the explosive climax, wounded Afghan War veteran and dedicated terrorist Vanka Zhukov. Monumental Propaganda meanders, but is solidified by its ferocious comic concentration on Aglaya’s zealous love for the good old days of benevolent despotism (when advised her homeland has embraced democracy, she incredulously cries,” And you say they don’t put anyone in jail?”), capped by her final feverish “embrace” of her beloved leader.
Not Voinovich’s very best, but a welcome addition to a brilliantly subversive and hugely entertaining body of work.