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Thursday, 28 January 2016

New and notable: Sergei Lebedev's Oblivion

Russophiles delight...there is so much great contemporary Russian literature cropping up on our shelves these days! First published in Russia in 2011, Sergei Lebedev's haunting tale of the legacy of the Soviet gulag system is now available to English-speaking readers. Be warned - this one is not for the faint of heart or the squeamish. Lebedev does not shy away from brutal depictions of the notoriously harsh Soviet prison camps. 

Our unnamed narrator, a geologist born in the 1980s, embarks on a journey northward to learn the history of someone from his past, a neighbour known simply as Grandfather II, who saved the narrator's life several times in childhood. Despite the familial nickname, the bond between the narrator and his elderly neighbour was never particularly loving, and seemed to be held tenuously by the narrator's sense of guilt and obligation toward the older man. What begins as a quest for answers about Grandfather II's shady past brings the young geologist face to face with the horrors of the gulags.

Blending the personal with the political with a poetic narrative style, Lebedev's voice sheds light on a part of Russian history that its current leaders would prefer to forget. This is a bleak, grim book, but a fascinating one! Couple it with Ludmila Ulitskaya's The Big Green Tent, Oleg Kashin's Fardwor, Russia! A Fantastical Tale of Life Under Putin, or Vladmir Sorokin's The Blizzard, and slake your thirst for contemporary Russian lit.

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