DON'T DIE BEFORE YOU'RE DEAD by Yevgeny Yevtushenko
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Russian poet, author, and political activist Yevtushenko (Ardabiola, 1985; Fatal Half Measures, 1991, etc.) recalls three days that shook the world--the attempted coup of August 1991--in a richly textured novel that serendipitously blends whimsical love stories, political suspense, and autobiographical commentary. Beginning with a puzzling order for 250,000 handcuffs that Special Investigator Stepan Palchikov is instructed to give the chief of a top-secret installation, the story moves a few months ahead, to August 1991, when Communist hard-liners move to overthrow Gorbachev. As the events of those three days in Moscow unfold, cast members including Yeltsin, Gorbachev, cellist Rostropovich, Foreign Minister Shevardnadze, and Yevtushenko himself make their appearance in separate chapters. Each offers brief reprises of their life, their reasons for appearing on the White House balcony with Yeltsin or for being part of the supportive crowds, and the emotions the coup evokes. Two life stories take center stage, giving the growing political drama a touching, sometimes even sentimental, tenderness. There is the apparatchik Palchikov, whose devotion to politics and work has destroyed his marriage to zoologist Alevtina. Meanwhile, as Alevtina searches for her missing python (also a character), Palchikov recalls his past, heroically commits himself to the new order, and determines to woo back his wife. The other story, that of former soccer star Lyza, does not end so happily: Lyza's great crossed love for a woman who adores climbing--even the Kremlin towers--ends tragically on the barricades. Linking them all are the writer's own memories of his Siberian childhood, the KGB's attempts to enlist him, their efforts to discredit him, and his responses to the current changes, which are not always sanguine. Contemporary history given the enlivening, even immortalizing fictional spin that only someone with a poetic sensibility, and someone who was there, can give. And an affecting tribute to a country and its remarkable people.

Pub Date: Nov. 15th, 1995
Page count: 408pp
Publisher: Random