cover image The Year of the Comet

The Year of the Comet

Sergei Lebedev, trans. from the Russian by Antonina W. Bouis. New Vessel, $17.95 trade paper (245p) ISBN 978-1-939931-4-12

Lebedev (Oblivion) delivers a remarkable bildungsroman, set against the decline of the Soviet Union. The nameless narrator, a young boy yearning for anonymity and seclusion, reflects on his past and relatives in an attempt to find truth and a better understanding of himself. In doing so, he also tells the story of Soviet rule. When he discovers Grandmother Mara’s old edition of the Great Soviet Encyclopedia, he notices the book includes names and places he has never heard mentioned. These vanished entries spur the protagonist to acknowledge his homeland’s fractured identity and to become more aware of the narratives that dictate his life. The appearance of Mister, a serial killer targeting young children, disrupts the rhythms of obeying power and pushes the narrator to pay attention to hints of the nation’s inevitable collapse. Like Lebedev’s previous novel, this book centers on one’s attempt to recover the past from a powerful governing narrative. Antonia W. Bouis’s deft translation captures Lebedev’s striking prose. The novel is packed with symbolism: “Every object means something, says something, increases the danger that threatens the hero or mitigates it,” the narrator muses. The plot remains widely relatable in depicting conflicts of consciousness—the speaker’s attempts to reconcile the contradictions between ideology and individuality. This is a smart, convincing, and affecting novel. (Feb.)