THE HAND, originally published in Russian as RUKA (1980), takes its name from the narrator, who is known as “The Hand” because of his large and powerful hands. Colonel Bashov has been in the service of the Soviet security police for forty years when the novel opens. It was Joseph Stalin who first called him The Hand. Over the years, Bashov has perfected many effective methods of physical and psychological torture. He is able to wrap one of his giant hands around the head of a prisoner and squeeze until his victim is rendered helpless or dead. The main focus of his monologue, though, is the arrest and interrogation of Citizen Gurov. Gurov was a member of a Communist brigade that murdered Bashov’s father and many others of his village when he was a child.
THE HAND begins with Gurov in custody. Bashov has finally collected enough evidence against Gurov on a variety of crimes. Arresting Gurov has not been easy, since he has become one of the elite in Soviet society. Vengeance is the driving force behind Bashov’s actions. Aleshkovsky makes the point that both these men are creations of a cruel and corrupt system. Bashov rambles on about his years in the security police. He also delineates the crimes of Citizen Gurov. Aleshkovsky’s prose is profane and surreal. There is also a definite poetic quality present as one disturbing piece of the puzzle after another is joined until the whole irrational picture of the Soviet system is fully displayed.
The author was born in Siberia in 1929; he spent several years in a labor camp before he was able to emigrate to the West in 1979. With the advent of Mikhail Gorbachev, THE HAND has lost some of its immediacy. Aleshkovsky, however, writes in the tradition of Fyodor Dostoevski and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn; THE HAND can be read by generations to come as a brutally honest portrait of what evil can do when it has been institutionalized.