The Age of Terror

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The Age of Terror begins with a featured historical photograph of the frozen corpse of the real Russian partisan woman Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya, whom the Nazis murdered in 1941. Around this photo, David Plante spins a tale of obsession, grief, and an attempt at love. His two Americans, the 23-year-old Joe and the older, alcoholic Gerald, both have seen this picture. It left them with a lasting obsession with the Russian’s presumed capacity to endure tremendous suffering.

When Joe drops out of college to come to Leningrad just prior to the end of the Soviet Union in 1989, he encounters the mysterious Zoya, who has been named after her partisan counterpart. He quickly meets the unsavory Gerald, who has set up a joint venture with Zoya to procure young Russians for the international sex trade. Appalled by Gerald, who is also drinking himself to death, Joe tries to save Zoya, even if it were against her will.

Plante’s narrative sometimes moves a bit slowly, and his characters tend to indulge in long, drunken conversations which do not reveal as much as a reader may hope. All three want to imagine things no one has ever imagined before. Unfortunately, this plot device may remind some readers more of an assignment for a creative writing class, rather than adding life to the protagonists. Joe’s surrealistic dreams of life before and under Stalin are clearly meant to parallel his own loss of idealism.

In the end, Zoya and Joe take on the self-abusive Gerald. A reader interested in the hauntingly evoked atmosphere of Communism’s last days in snow-covered Moscow, who is willing to follow Plante’s characters into the depths of their own souls, will find The Age of Terror a stimulating experience.