Sign of Misfortune

Vasil' Bykau, Author Allerton Press $19.95 (240p) ISBN 978-0-89864-049-6
This careful translation of Bykov's 1982 excellent, unrelentingly bleak drama serves to introduce Byelorussia's foremost living writer to the American public. Two elderly peasants, Stepanida and husband Petroc, eke out a living on an allotment carved from an estate in the eastern Soviet republic. Having survived the horrors of agricultural collectivization during the 1930s, which caused a near-famine in their village, they now face a new terror--Nazi occupation. The Germans, with the help of vindictive local polizei who bear a grudge against the garrulous Stepanida for her Communist activism prior to the war, requisition their farm. Bykov's descriptions of fluctuations of nature and Stepanida and Petroc's stoic endurance through years of suffering and deprivation are contrasted with the deliberate brutality of the Nazi occupiers. Even when the Germans are finally forced to retreat, the elderly couple's misfortunes do not end. Petroc, who, unlike his wife, is an optimist, tries his hand at making vodka to use as a bargaining chip. But the polizei's demands become insatiable, and when he is unwilling to meet them, events move quickly to a tragic end. Bykov's sturdy yet evocative prose conveys the strength of the Russian character during a grim period of history. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 01/01/1990
Release date: 01/01/1990
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