Farewell from Nowhere by Lev Samsonov

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Farewell from Nowhere Summary

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Farewell from Nowhere traces the physical, spiritual, and emotional journey of a young Russian boy, Vlad Samsonov, through his turbulent adolescence and tentative venture into early manhood. Written in four sections, each comprising from seventeen to twenty-five brief chapters, the novel shifts the chronology of events frequently, so that it is necessary to read through to virtually the end of the work to understand the context or import of events that were related much earlier.

Vlad begins his role in the narrative as a boy of about seven or eight, the son of a peasant woman and a politically outspoken father whose Trotskyist leanings have led to his arrest and imprisonment. With his father absent, Vlad often goes to stay with his grandfather, Saviely Mikheyev, and spends the rest of his time reading and conversing with his neighbors in the Moscow suburb of Sokolniki. Vlad fancies himself a poet and writes tributes to the righteousness of the Soviet state. His neighbors, less enamored of Joseph Stalin’s government, are alienated and annoyed by Vlad’s blind allegiance. To Vlad, this loyalty is merely the mark of a good citizen, and he fulfills his “civic duty” even to the extent of reporting a classmate who tells an anti-Stalinist joke.

Gradually, Vlad’s experiences begin to change his attitude about political dissidence. He spends a summer at a Pioneer camp, part of a government-run youth-league program. At first, Vlad feels comfortable in the group atmosphere, but the troop leader’s dislike of him eventually makes him reluctant to participate, and he is accused of an “alien spirit of individualism.” To compound his difficulties, Vlad is smitten with love for a girl who is indifferent to him. Misreading her intentions during a war games exercise, he is caught off guard and forced to surrender. Dejected, Vlad deserts the mock battlefield and seeks solitude in which to lick his emotional wounds. He ducks inside the sewer pipe under an outdoor latrine, but even there he cannot escape his misfortune. His daydreams of victory are rudely interrupted by the arrival of the troop leader, who has come to use the latrine. Terrified of being found out, Vlad can only remain still and brace himself for the deluge. The event is both humorous and prophetic, for it turns out to be a portent of Vlad’s future encounters with the state.

The narrative shifts next to Vlad’s home life. His father, only recently released from prison, is drafted into the army and dies in his first week at the front, where Russian troops are struggling to contain Adolf Hitler’s invading army. Vlad returns to his grandfather and travels with him transporting secret documents as part of the war effort. When Saviely’s village of Uzlovaya is freed from German occupation, they return, but soon afterward Vlad is summoned home by his mother. At the train station, Vlad says good-bye to Saviely and feels, accurately, in the light of the events that follow, that his childhood is closing behind him. He returns to a gloomy Moscow and works at a variety of odd jobs, but when these fail him, he resorts to stealing. Life at home with his mother, his sister Katya, and his aunt Maria (Mikheyev) is full of conflict and becomes even more bitter when Vlad learns that his beloved grandfather has died. As he did when a young boy, Vlad seeks sanctuary in books and one day comes across Alexei Svirsky’s Istoriia moei zhizni (1935; the story of my life). The book is an account of Svirsky’s solitary travels as a youth, and it inspires Vlad, now twelve, to run away from home.

This decision marks the beginning of a radically different life for Vlad. He adopts the life-style of a transient: hopping trains, joining with other runaways in order to get money or food, and then leaving again to roam on his own. The sheer struggle for existence pushes his resourcefulness to the limits. He works for a drug smuggler, indulges in petty thievery and drinking binges, and changes his name...

(The entire section is 1,300 words.)