Generations of Winter

Vassily Aksyonov, Author, Vasilii Pavlovich Aksenov, Author
Vassily Aksyonov, Author, Vasilii Pavlovich Aksenov, Author Random House (NY) $25 (592p) ISBN 978-0-394-56961-1
Reviewed on: 07/04/1994
Release date: 07/01/1994
Paperback - 608 pages - 978-0-679-76182-2
Hardcover - 978-0-517-16410-5
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The exiled Russian author of The Burn and In Search of Melancholy Baby has attempted a daring coup in this huge, panoramic novel of Soviet life from 1925 to 1945: nothing less than a War and Peace for the 20th century. Aksyonov is a thoroughly self-conscious artist, and his lofty ambition seems quite clear. The fact that he has come astonishingly close to realizing it is the great news about this engulfing work. We meet the Gradov family at their dacha outside Moscow a few years after the Revolution. Boris is an esteemed surgeon, the epitome of the old intellectual bourgeoisie; his wife Mary is a lover of Chopin; their son Nikita a dashing young Red Army officer with a beautiful wife; second son Kirill is a prim young Marxist; and daughter Nina is a wild bohemian poet. Their warm, peaceful house is a refuge as the world darkens around them, the paranoia in the Kremlin grows and Stalin's star rises. In the terrible 1930s, both sons are swept into the legion of the disappeared; then, as war begins and the Germans approach Moscow, Nikita's military skills bring him back, ironically, to a position of great military power. All this is told in a style that is at once headlong, ruminative and at times wildly surreal. Aksyonov offers interludes in which animals, trees and birds interact with the human creatures; he also includes contemporary press clippings of the kind John Dos Passos utilized in USA . The effect is to create a dazzling kaleidoscope of emotion and action that is at once profoundly Russian and movingly universal. The horrors of Siberian exile and of the bitter battlefronts in Poland and the Ukraine have seldom been more powerfully evoked--even by Solzhenitsyn. Once accustomed to the book's strange rhythms and sometimes exotic angles of vision, a reader will be quite transported into a world that is by turns poignant and crushing. (June)
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