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Oblivion by Sergei Lebedev
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Oblivion (edition 2016)

by Sergei Lebedev (Author), Antonina W. Bouis (Translator)

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676343,850 (4.17)3
"Rich in textures, colors, sounds, and visual details ... The best of Russia's younger generation of writers."--The New York Review of Books In one of the first twenty-first century Russian novels to probe the legacy of the Soviet prison camp system, a young man travels to the vast wastelands of the Far North to uncover the truth about a shadowy neighbor who saved his life, and whom he knows only as Grandfather II. What he finds, among the forgotten mines and decrepit barracks of former gulags, is a world relegated to oblivion, where it is easier to ignore both the victims and the executioners than to come to terms with a terriblepast. This disturbing tale evokes the great and ruined beauty of a land where man and machine worked in tandem with nature to destroy millions of lives during the Soviet century. Emerging from today's Russia, where the ills of the past are being forcefully erased from public memory, this masterful novel represents an epic literary attempt to rescue history from the brink of oblivion. Sergei Lebedevwas born in Moscow in 1981 and worked for seven years on geological expeditions in northern Russia and Central Asia. His first novel,Oblivion, has been translated into many languages.… (more)
Member:MaryJeanPhillips
Title:Oblivion
Authors:Sergei Lebedev (Author)
Other authors:Antonina W. Bouis (Translator)
Info:New Vessel Press (2019), 290 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:
Tags:to-read

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Oblivion by Sergei Lebedev

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I found this novel to be slow and rather dull, but also important, so I stuck it out. And it took me 16 days to listen to this--an under-10-hour book.

There is no plot per se, instead a young man travels to the Russian taiga to learn more about the elderly man "Grandfather II" who save his life twice--before he was born, and then with a blood transfusion later that ultimately killed the elderly man himself. Who was he? Where did he come from, what was his history?

So this young man travels east and north, to the region of Soviet prison camps and mines, where a few reindeer herders who escaped the Soviets settling them still live, where escaped prisoners still escape to, and area and people that Russia ignores. And he learns about Grandfather IIs past. It is not what he expected.

I found this very interesting if dull and plotless. I would really prefer this story in nonfiction form, but I don't know if that has been written (or these days, if it can be written at all)--or translated into English if it does exist.

I liked the narration, Daniel Gamburg has enough of a Russian accent to pronounce Russian words and names properly and to lend a feeling of authenticity (and I could not forget where the story was)--but not so strong as to be hard to understand in any way. ( )
  Dreesie | Apr 7, 2022 |
con dedica: " From the author with hope to meet again in a wonderful town of Rovereto"
  vecchiopoggi | Dec 13, 2021 |
Lebedev begins OBLIVION with a young narrator who seems to be enjoying an idyllic childhood in a wealthy suburban Russian setting. One quickly learns, however, that this is a deceptive metaphor for the political amnesia that is prevalent in Russia. Using a clever plot structure, Lebedev forces the reader to gaze instead upon the unspeakable horrors of Stalinism. The crimes of the Soviet gulags have been willfully expunged by the State from the people’s consciousness. "All the executions, all the murders were forgotten, an entire era had settled to the bottom of memory." This then becomes Lebedev’s goal: to rescue this Russian heritage from the oblivion the State has consigned it to.

The unnamed narrator tells of a mysterious old man who has adopted his family. He comes to know him as Grandfather II. This elderly man is detached and alienated from the others. Now blind, he “seemed to have already lived his life, his existence outlasting his destiny.” In a strange way, Grandfather II appropriates the narrator, showing no affection, but instead treating the boy as a kind of possession. When a rabid dog attacks the boy, the old man beats the dog to death with his cane and brings the boy to the hospital where the doctors tell him that he needs a transfusion to save his life. The old man gives him the needed transfusion and he, in turn, dies as a result. This becomes the defining metaphor for the novel because from that point, the boy feels he is connected to the old man and in a way has inherited his sins. Thus he feels compelled to learn about Grandfather II’s past.

The narrator’s quest consumes the latter part of the novel. He is now an adult and a geologist (This is an interesting choice since his main function for the remainder of the book is excavation). He first becomes aware of the remnants of the gulag while flying over Siberia for his work. Later he begins to realize that the ideologies that generated the gulag could be seen in the stark architecture all over Russia. “I intuitively recognized those camp barracks. They were hidden inside the buildings, clad in pathetic architectural dress—and yet they were revealed in general outlines, corners, and most important in the sense of deadly . . . dreariness.”

A letter found among the old man’s possessions provides a clue and prompts a quest to find the sender in Siberia. What he finds there ranges from the grim to the absolutely horrific. The grim images consist of devastated forests, abandoned mines, decayed barracks, rusted vehicles and roads being reclaimed by nature. The horrific are human skulls, mass graves, frozen corpses and trucks transporting “bones covered with a red-stained tarp."

Through a series of interviews, the narrator discovers that Grandfather II was a ruthless warden at one of the camps and was responsible for much of the carnage that took place there. He eventually comes to terms with his inheritance from the old man when he visits an island where prisoners were exiled to die. There he descends into a sinkhole where he encounters the old man’s victims frozen in the permafrost.

This is not an easy book to read because of its dark subject matter. Yet it seems important because of its courage. The novel reads a little like a detective story, but clearly has a larger agenda. The narrative is often lyrical, evoking images of the land and its people. However, it seems marred by over-writing. Using long sentences with multiple clauses, Lebedev inserts himself into the narrative with barely relevant observations about language, memories and life in general. The narrative is weakest in these long didactic sections, but more powerful when the narrator describes what he sees and relates the interactions he has with the people he meets. ( )
  ozzer | Jan 31, 2017 |
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"Rich in textures, colors, sounds, and visual details ... The best of Russia's younger generation of writers."--The New York Review of Books In one of the first twenty-first century Russian novels to probe the legacy of the Soviet prison camp system, a young man travels to the vast wastelands of the Far North to uncover the truth about a shadowy neighbor who saved his life, and whom he knows only as Grandfather II. What he finds, among the forgotten mines and decrepit barracks of former gulags, is a world relegated to oblivion, where it is easier to ignore both the victims and the executioners than to come to terms with a terriblepast. This disturbing tale evokes the great and ruined beauty of a land where man and machine worked in tandem with nature to destroy millions of lives during the Soviet century. Emerging from today's Russia, where the ills of the past are being forcefully erased from public memory, this masterful novel represents an epic literary attempt to rescue history from the brink of oblivion. Sergei Lebedevwas born in Moscow in 1981 and worked for seven years on geological expeditions in northern Russia and Central Asia. His first novel,Oblivion, has been translated into many languages.

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