Olga Vasilievna (vah-see-LYEHV-nah), a recently widowed research biologist. After the early death of her husband, Sergei Afanasievich, she reconstructs by way of flashbacks their life together in an attempt to understand what went wrong and to assuage her guilt feelings about her husband’s demise. In the end, she realizes that she is not to blame, that their marriage was doomed to failure through forces beyond their control, and that they both unknowingly had yearned for a life other than their own, which eventually led to misunderstandings and the tragic end. Although she has many acquaintances and female friends, gets on well with people, and is not afraid of life’s complexities, she finds that she is psychologically overly dependent on other people and is therefore unable to attain happiness by living independently.
Sergei Afanasievich (sehr-GAY ah-fah-NAH-syeh-vihch), Olga’s husband, a brilliant historian who dies prematurely at the age of forty-two without accomplishing much. Capricious and of unstable character, lacking dedication and willpower, and always in trouble at the institute where he works, he nevertheless knows how to make friends, especially among women, and ostensibly how to keep his marriage from falling apart. His main problem is a strong dependence on his mother’s opinion and moods; he is compelled to explain and justify himself to her. He adores his mother and stands in awe before her for “making history” during the Russian Revolution. Because of his subservience to his mother and his...
(The entire section is 691 words.)