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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Recommended: "The Archivist's Story" by Travis Holland

The Archivist's Story, a novel by Travis Holland, is set in 1939 Moscow. It is a relatively short book (about 240 pages) that communicates one powerful feeling: dread. The archivist in the story, former teacher Pavel Dubrov, works at Lubyanka prison. His job is to catalog, and ultimately destroy, writings by authors who are the victims of Stalin's persecution.

Dubrov steals from the office some work by Isaak Babel, although he knows that even such a small act could lead to arrest and death. This adds another layer of dread to the already horrifying world of the Soviet Union under Stalin, its Secret Police, and pending war with Germany. In the course of these extraordinary times, ordinary life continues and Pavel Dubrov must also cope with the death of Dubrov's wife in a train accident and his mother's failing health.

The situation is grim, but author Travis Holland writes delicately and beautifully of this dangerous world. As bad things happen, it's like watching a window slowly crack and disintegrate; we wait for the glass to fall out and a dreadful storm to rush in through the destruction.

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