Characters Discussed

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Vladimir (Vlad) Samsonov

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Vladimir (Vlad) Samsonov, a Russian youth. Vlad is, for the most part, modeled on the author and is the main character. At the beginning of this coming-of-age story, he is a small Jewish boy growing up in the Moscow suburb of Sokolniki. He becomes aware, early in life, of his background and of the resulting disadvantages. He spends his life trying to adjust to his precarious position while holding on to his tenuous yet deep-rooted family ties. As a schoolboy, he merges his individuality with the collective and renounces his dissident father, a concentration camp convict. Later, he is forced to leave home and his mother, who is surprisingly glad to get rid of him and whom he never forgives for that. Vlad finds love and support in his grandfather Saviely, which unfortunately does not prevent him from spending long years wandering and searching for his true self. In his life as a delinquent, sleeping in railroad stations and shantytowns and serving time in jail, reformatories, and juvenile detention centers, two things keep Vlad alive: love for books and the goodness of some of his fellow tramps. Although several times he is on the verge of giving up in despair and committing suicide, he survives primarily because of his urge to be a poet and because of his constant thinking of home, to which he wants to return in triumph. He also benefits from his ability to adapt quickly and painlessly to new situations, from being mature for his age, and from some qualities that make others, especially his peers, like him and want to help him (most of them affectionately call him “kid”). Prone to falling in love, which often leads to misfortune and disappointments, he finds little happiness with women, being always aware of a wall dividing him from others. This pronounced egotism leads at times to a persecution complex and makes him dream of being pursued. At the same time, he is always looking for fairness and justice, and he often wonders why people cannot live in peace with one another. Expressing his love-hate feelings for Russia, he vows to return in the hope that the country will finally understand and embrace its stepchildren, the Jews.

Alexei Samsonov

Alexei Samsonov, his father, who plays a brief but important role in Vlad’s life. Through his incarceration, Alexei personifies for the young boy the persecution of his race and the basic injustice of the system in which they are forced to live. In the short time the father spends with his precocious son, he teaches him a few important lessons, the primary one being that when a man betrays another, he betrays himself. By repenting his betrayal, Vlad makes up for his father’s seemingly futile life, suffering, and early death in World War II, when he and many others were abandoned to their fate by their officers.

Fedosya Samsonov

Fedosya Samsonov, Vlad’s mother. She is an apathetic woman, seemingly going to pieces under the blows life has dealt their family. She is largely absent in Vlad’s life, except for her indifference toward him, which, in turn, contributes to his misery but also to his resolve not to submit to fate’s cruelty.

Saviely Mikheyev

Saviely Mikheyev, Vlad’s grandfather, a retired railroad worker. Representing the Russian half of Vlad’s background, Saviely symbolizes the split in Vlad’s psyche that leads to his love-hate relationship with his country. An unsociable man who has never had any dealings with his children and never had any friends, he nevertheless provides, through his love for Vlad, the only mooring for the young boy adrift in a sea of seeming indifference and hopelessness.

Sergei

Sergei, a young delinquent, one of many such characters Vlad meets on his wanderings. Developing a strong liking for Vlad, he becomes his protector in the underground world and even from the police. From him, Vlad learns love and respect for others, as well as loyalty to his friends. Vlad sees that through all the murk and filth of existence, Sergei always possessed the divine gift of conscience, which keeps hope alive and makes life worth living.

Boris Essman

Boris Essman, an artist from Vlad’s Krasnodar days. Essman provides friendship and moral support at the time when Vlad desperately tries to get on the right track. Like so many gifted young people of that time, Boris was prevented from fulfilling his potential, thus deserving the epitaph of a master craftsman who never lived to see his own church spire, a tragic fate Vlad is able to avoid.

The Characters

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As the protagonist of Farewell from Nowhere, Vlad is largely a portrait of Vladimir Maximov as a youth. The events in the story, although dramatized, correspond closely with the author’s experience; Maximov has stated in interviews that the novel is autobiographical. Since the book is essentially a coming-of-age chronicle, it is not surprising that its focus is somewhat narrow and that Vlad emerges as the only fully rounded character, indeed the only figure who is present throughout the entire novel. Other names and faces meander in and out of the narrative, some making an entrance and exit within the space of a single page. As such, they serve mainly to illuminate Vlad’s struggle toward maturity.

Vlad’s quest is really threefold: He must discover and establish his own identity, he must come to understand other individuals and human nature in general, and he must posit himself in relation to his nation and culture. He accomplishes this through his interaction with the other characters. Vlad’s experience of his father, though limited, is a source of both his outspoken political nature and his individualism. Counterbalancing Alexei is Vlad’s mother, Fedosya, who bitterly views her husband’s dissident activity as merely an invitation to trouble. Uncle Mitya, Fedosya’s brother, echoes this sentiment, warning that books can lead one astray and that “Life’s much easier if you keep going steady and don’t stick your neck out.” Mitya sees his country’s problems, but considers silence prudent. Vlad ignores the conventional wisdom and learns the painful lesson at first hand.

Another, more personal facet of Vlad’s development centers on a perennial ordeal of youth: learning the virtues of compassion and forgiveness. With the love and trust bestowed upon him by his grandfather as a touchstone, Vlad gradually comes to appreciate the healing power of mercy, especially when extended to those who have shown him none. When his grandfather’s friends (a married couple and their children) are invited to share Saviely’s private railroad car one night, Vlad is resentful and finds himself disliking the man’s quarrelsome and irascible wife. When he awakens that night to hear her crying in fear and pain to her husband, he realizes that passing judgment on his fellow human beings without understanding them is sinful and ignorant.

The final and perhaps most important contribution that the other characters make to Vlad’s life is the recognition, encouragement, and at times the safeguarding of his poetic gifts. Despite his rebellious and maverick temperament, Vlad receives support from such a diversity of people that he eventually learns to believe in his gifts himself. The return home after his long sojourn makes him realize that his past is an ineluctable part of who he is, and that this “discovered” self, the foundation for the self he must establish, has rendered his future vocation as a writer just as inescapable.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 27

Library Journal. Review. CIV (August, 1979), p. 1590.

Listener. Review. C (November 30, 1978), p. 734.

New Statesman. Review. XCVI (November 17, 1978), p. 665.

Observer. Review. November 12, 1978, p. 35.

Publishers Weekly. Review. CCXV (April 30, 1979), p. 173.

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