This masterful novel represents an epic literary attempt to examine a very troubled Russia. In one of the first 21st-century Russian novels to probe the legacy of the Soviet prison-camp system, a young man travels to the vast wastelands of the Far North to uncover the truth about a shadowy neighbor who saved his life and whom he knows only as Grandfather II. What he finds, among the forgotten mines and decrepit barracks of former gulags, is a world relegated to oblivion, where it is easier to ignore both the victims and the executioners than to come to terms with a terrible past. This disturbing tale evokes the great and ruined beauty of a land where man and machine worked in tandem with nature to destroy millions of lives during the Soviet century. Emerging from today's Russia, where the ills of the past are being forcefully erased from public memory, this masterful novel represents an epic literary attempt to rescue history from the brink of oblivion.
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If you're looking for a book where things are go-go-go and things get done, stop reading this review, and start looking for a different book 'cause, trust me, "Oblivion," by Sergei Lebedev ain't that kind of a book at all. If you want to come away from a book absolutely haunted by some, well, 'gorgeous' seems like the wrong word for prose like this, but 'gaunt' doesn't cut it either... just listen to this book, maybe the term will come to you. Not a lot happens here. Horrors of the Soviet century are revisited: gulags, uranium mining camps, forced labor camps, the bread lines, the people snatched up at train stations, destined to become prisoners, all are addressed by the young man (we know him only through our own eyes, in first person, tho' there are jumps into second person for bouts of urgency) through dreams, images, then direct memories of the people he encounters as he tries to learn who Grandfather II was. The sentences of metaphors and similes are unique, dynamic. The metaphoric imagery is grand, broad, sweeping, and brilliant. Everything is in the details, details, details here. I can't begin to tell you that, however simple the "story" may seem, it's brilliant in how the details are conveyed and expanded on. You FEEL everything. You FEEL gaunt, starvation, fear, violation, the simple pleasure of a cool breeze on your face, or of the soldier passing you by. There are stories that are magnificent and brutal treasures: that of the child raised by one of the founders of a mining camp who receives a whistle. He knows nothing but the camp, and as such, has never heard a bird, knows nothing of air but for breathing. The whistle brings him, >gasp< imagination, something that could be ruinous in such a state. Seriously, the stories are extraordinary. This is not a sit down, cover-to-cover listen. You'll want to chew and savor, bit by bit. It's worth every little word. My only quibble, and perhaps I'm being most ungenerous, is with the narration. Gamburg does a perfectly fine job, but given the caliber of the writing, given the excellence of the translation, my expectations for the delivery were much higher than what was given. I expected much, much more in the way of emotion. Nothing histrionic, certainly not, just not so very subdued. Still, he turned in a capable performance that at least didn't at all detract from the work. Excellent book. I love being haunted.