I think this section, of Olga, Tamara, and Galya moved too quick for such a complex friendship. Perhaps we’ll get more from another point of view, but it didn’t reveal that much more about Olga we didn’t already learn and I didn’t feel like I really know Tamara, either.
This was a slightly confusing section with all the new characters, but the way the novel jumps around in time to give us another point of view of the same events is fun if delirious, just like the life Olga led with Ilya (explains her love)
There’s a great flowering of life in drab Russia, all tucked away and mad and mixed up. Boots stuffed with literature, Stockhausen played at a wedding in an old aristocratic house. It’s art and madness all swirling about unseen, like Sanya’s crippled fingers. Remarkable!
The idea of an illegal copy of The Gulag Archipelago used as stuffing for a new pair of boots is wonderful!
What a rowdy crowd, and all because of books! Misfits all, and funny to think these were the people trying to change Soviet culture. The Soviets and then couldn’t be any different. In a way you wonder who were the most deserving of society? This bunch were all nuts!
This novel is brilliant! The story of Olga’s mother, of her Orthodox family, of the denouncment, explains so much about a woman whose funeral nobody attended. She had to survive, and maybe even took on the cancer from her daughter as one last act of humanity in the inhuman Communist Party line.
Olga’s story turned out the way everything else in Russia seems to go: sadly. I loved Olga’s oberservation about Americans smelling like laundry detergent, everyone is too clean. The cancer was like communism, there all along and killing the patient everyday.
Olga is interesting. She is raised to be a good little Soviet girl, lover of the party, and communal first. Yet when she is “indoctrinated” at college, she is honest and forthright in defending her teacher even though he is a dissident. The very values the party required worked against everyone, including her parents who never saw it coming. We now see Ilya as an outsider would – neat literary trick.
While I wish the play the students put on for their teacher, Victor, was a longer scene, it’s still quite wonderful with every character from Russian literature appearing in a mad, low budget fever.
She juxtaposes the boys puberty with the uncertainty of the times (twice she says most people never escape the forest of adolescence). She then has them discover the Decemberists giving them a new grounding in life. Brilliant.
The stampede in the streets: I wonder if that really happened when Stalin’s death was announced? But even if it didn’t, as a literary device it works well to describe the Russian people and state of mind – a leaderless flock in chaos where each person is probably grateful but unable to stop the stampede anyway. Add this the confused sexual feelings of his friend and there is a brilliant mixing of ideas here.
Each of the boys has a need to express himself as individuals, but living in Stalin’s Russia makes that dangerous. One boy is a musician, but his hand his cut and thus his career. The other boy skates, but that ends in a tragedy. Yet another is a photographer and tragedy befalls his father.
Photos from Slate’s Early Soviet Photography Was Surprisingly Avant-Garde
That moment when you fall in love with a novel on the first page. When you start bargaining how many hours of sleep you actually need to make time to keep reading. This is that novel.