THE NOBEL PRIZE by Yuri Krotkov


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The you-are-there-style dramatic reconstruction of recent Soviet history, which made such a blackout-powerful impression in Krotkov's book about Stalin (The Red Monarch, 1979), is used again in this novel--as post-Doctor Zhivago Boris Pasternak is confronted by the Nobel Prize, which Nikita Khrushchev wants him to decline. Pasternak's ordeal and his ultimate decision not to accept are made intelligible here--by full dramatization of what the Pasternakian soul-searching might have been like, considering the poet's well-known naivetÉ, his innocence, quest for goodness, simple patriotism. His clumsy personal life is scoured too: his relationship with grasping mistress, alga (Krotkov's Ivinskaya is a scornful, fiery shrew, nothing like the self-haloing picture in her 1978 autobiography, A Captive of Time); the guilt over wife Zina. Plus: Pasternak's nagging wonder that it took the state so long to come down hard on him (why had Stalin spared him?). But the character who muscles to the front of this novelization is Khrushchev: the ""corn prince,"" the clown, the boaster, the fallible realist, the innovator, the fox, the iron fist in the pounding shoe. Krotkov's Khrushchev jerks the aged, sick Pasternak around almost as a game: it's horrifying. Yet, for all the natural interest we have in this moving diorama of ambiguous history, the book, as a novel, is rather disappointing. Khrushchev is not all that different from Krotkov's Stalin (which, of course, is part of the point)--less mad, certainly, but still engaging us primarily by the wielding of his caprice. And Pasternak is possibly too slippery to be a satisfying fictional character (maybe all poets are). A convincing but ultimately unremarkable recreation, then; the hints in Pasternak's delicate poems bulk larger than any imaginative speculation.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1980
Publisher: Simon & Schuster