Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Pantelei Apollinarievich Pantelei

Pantelei Apollinarievich Pantelei (pahn-teh-LAY ah-poh-lih-NAH-rih-vihch), also called Pantik, Academician, Pantelyusha, and Pant, a writer. Forty years old in 1972-1973, he wins at the racetrack, flies to Yalta, and ends up in a sobering-up station. Arrested in Moscow, he shares a dream in jail with the other heroes (Kunitser, Sabler, Khvastishchev, and Malkolmov); their identities merge with one another and with Tolya’s.

Aristarkh Apollinarievich Kunitser

Aristarkh Apollinarievich Kunitser (ah-rih-STAHRKH KEW-nih-tsehr), also called Kun, and Arik, a forty-year-old physicist and space scientist. He takes Nina Lygher-Cheptsova, his lover, to political meetings at Argentov’s.


Samson (Samsik) Apollinarievich Sabler (SAB-lehr), a forty-year-old jazz saxophonist in a Moscow nightclub. He faints during rehearsal and discovers he has emphysema.

Radius Apollinarievich Khvastishchev

Radius Apollinarievich Khvastishchev (RAH-dee-uhs khvah-stih-SHCHEHV), a forty-year-old sculptor. He invites a cloakroom attendant to pose, then learns the attendant is Lygher.


Gennady (Genka) Apollinarievich Malkolmov (geh-NAH-dee MAHL-kohl-mov), a forty-year-old physician who, in 1961, met Masha at a United Nations hospital in Katanga. Summoned to care for the injured Cheptsov, he allows him to die.

Tolya von Steinbock

Tolya von Steinbock, also called Tolya Bokov and Anatoly Apollinarievich Bokov, who is seventeen years old in 1949. He is in Magadan, Eastern Siberia, where Tolya lives with his mother and loves Lyudmila Guly. He witnesses his mother’s second arrest and Cheptsov’s torture of Sanya.


Alisa, a seventeen-year-old Magadan camp inmate in 1949 who is married to Fokusov. She is a sexually promiscuous Moscow beauty with reddish blonde hair in the 1970’s. When Pantelei confronts her, she chooses her husband’s wealth. Blazer says she is in the KGB.

Sanya Gurchenko

Sanya Gurchenko (GOOR-chehn-koh), known as Father Alexander, a Catholic camp inmate and carpenter who escapes to the West in 1951. He introduced Tolya to the underground world of “Crimea.” As Father Alexander, he encounters Pantelei/Khvastishchev in Rome in 1965-1966.

Patrick Thunderjet

Patrick Thunderjet, an Anglo-American friend of the heroes. He met Malkolmov and Masha in Katanga in 1961. He spends an evening with Khvastishchev, Toma, and Klara. He and Academician win at a Moscow racetrack and fly to Yalta, where he drunkenly requests political asylum. In 1972-1973, he is at the University of Sussex in England.

Stepan Cheptsov

Stepan Cheptsov, a retired KGB officer who arrested Tolya’s mother and Sanya Gurchenko twenty years earlier....

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The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The Burn’s five-in-one hero manifests different aspects of Aksyonov himself and his close friends, all members of the new young cultural and scientific elite in the 1960’s. Most central of the generational spokesmen and closest to author Aksyonov is the writer Pantalei, who is caught up in the quest for the once-pure camp victim Alisa, now the beautiful vixen of the Moscow jet set and possible KGB informant. Malkolmov, like Aksyonov, is a doctor. Jazz saxophonist Sabler reflects Aksyonov’s love of American jazz and popular music. Tolya von Steinbock’s background closely parallels that of Aksyonov’s youth. The heroes, although distinct in most respects, are not “real,” individuated protagonists. They are, rather, richly drawn types chosen to convey different aspects of the experiences of a single generation. Their kinship is marked by their shared middle name, “Apollinarievich”; they are the figurative sons of Apollo, the Greek god of the creative arts.

Other characters are also treated as “sets.” Each of the heroes is paired with a villain, a Judas figure. Aksyonov signals their nature by assigning them names that mean “silver” in various languages: Silvester, the jazz man; Zilberansky, the doctor; Argentov, a scientist; Serebro, a sculptor; and Serebryanikov, a writer. The “silver” refers to the thirty pieces of silver Judas received for betraying Christ.

The Burn offers a third, less sharply defined group of characters. These are the Stalinists headed by Lieutenant Colonel Cheptsov. Cheptsov and his henchmen appear throughout the novel in various guises and transformations: as cloakroom or drunk-tank attendants; as roving marauders who plunder Europe in earlier centuries; as a mercenary unit that attacks a United Nations hospital in Katanga; and as the Soviet tank crews that subjugate Prague in 1968. Cheptsov is often identifiable only by his “eyes like small, hot black cherries.”

Perhaps the only characters who are truly individuals as opposed to representatives are the ex-prisoners Sanya Gurchenko and Tolya’s stepfather, who, supported by their religious beliefs, have actively resisted evil. Moral compromise and betrayal are unknown in their world.