cover image Dust and Ashes

Dust and Ashes

Anatoli Rybakov. Little Brown and Company, $24.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-316-76379-0

The third and final volume in the saga of Soviet life under Stalin that began with Children of the Arbat and continued with Fear has the same virtues as its very impressive predecessors: a swift-moving narrative that shifts smoothly from close-up detail to panoramic social vistas, an appealing pair of star-crossed lovers at the heart of the tale and an uncanny knack for penetrating the minds of officialdom from Stalin himself on down to the lowest apparatchik. Rybakov was probably a man much like his hero, Sasha Pankratov--skeptical, even playful, but courageous in a pinch and willing always to see as much good as possible in those around him. In Dust and Ashes, Pankratov leads an uneasy life as a political outcast, separated from his beloved Varya until his imagined sins against the state are forgotten in the war against the Germans and he achieves a kind of dark apotheosis. Throughout, his adventures across a wide swath of Soviet society are compelling and convincing. Rybakov swiftly sketches opportunistic artists, cynical officials, mourning mothers, people who perform almost unnoticed good deeds in the surrounding darkness. And the interior musings of Stalin are just as surrealistically self-justifying as one imagines a paranoid dictator's would be. Brilliantly translated by Bouis (is there a better Russian literary translator around?), this novel sets the seal on one of the masterworks of contemporary Russian literature. (Mar.)