Gleb Vikentyevich Nerzhin
Gleb Vikentyevich Nerzhin (vih-kehn-TEE-yeh-vihch NEHR-zhihn), a thirty-one-year-old zek mathematician who turns to history and writes secretly and frantically. He is the most autobiographical of thezeks. He is a friend of Rubin, and the virgin Simochka has a crush on him, but the affair is interrupted by an unexpected visit from his wife, Nadya, who has had to live a lie for five years about her husband and now needs to disown him to save her job and her dissertation, though she loves him more than physical life. They both sense that he has thrived spiritually and intellectually on circle life. At the end of the novel, he is transported to an unknown, but probably horrible, camp.
Lev Grigoryvich Rubin
Lev Grigoryvich Rubin (gree-goh-REE-yeh-vihch REW-bihn), a zek philologist whose talents are crucial to the voice encoder. He narrows voiceprints of five suspects to two, including the guilty party, Volodin. A Jew with a thick black beard and an odd gait and stance caused by a shell fragment in his side, he was an assistant professor before the war and knew every German writer who had ever published. Thirty-six years old, like his best friend, Nerzhin, he was given ten years for knowing Germans at the end of the war. Unlike Nerzhin, he is a Communist. Although he has trouble reconciling prison life and Party ideals, he is the spokesman for progressive ideology and calls Stalin “the Robespierre and the Napoleon of our Revolution wrapped up into one.” Although he momentarily thrills to the thought that he might be inventing a new science, “phonoscophy,” he realizes that his talent is wasted. He blames the waste on those who do not allow him to use his talents.
Dimitri Aleksandrovich Sologdin
Dimitri Aleksandrovich Sologdin (dih-MIH-tree ah-lehk-SAN-droh-vihch soh-LOG-dihn), a thirty-six-year-old zek designer. He is in his second term and not likely to be released. He volunteers to cut wood for the kitchen for the exercise, though it is hard to convince Security that he does not have ulterior motives. He is a permanent character among the zeks. Secretly, he designs an absolute voice encoder, which he hopes to trade for his freedom.
Anton Nikolayevich Yakonov
Anton Nikolayevich Yakonov (nih-koh-LAY-yeh-vihch yah-KOH-nov), the colonel of engineers of the State Security Service and chief of operations at the Mavrino Institute research laboratory. More than fifty years old but still in his prime, he is tall, with a large frame, but moves swiftly. He has a princely manner. He had been a young radio engineer in 1932 and was arrested because he might have been “polluted” on a foreign assignment. He was one of the first zeks in one of the first sharaskas. He has bad relations with his deputy, Major Roitman, and is fearful of being returned to “The Pit” (prison).
Joseph V. Stalin
Joseph V. Stalin, originally Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili, the secretary general of the Communist Party, 1922-1953, and premier of the Soviet Union, 1941-1953. He is called many other names that demonstrate his facility for being the best at everything. His aide Sasha calls him Ios Sarionich. The familiar portrait of the youthful, steely-eyed, mustachioed, short-haired strongman is everywhere. Stalin created the “first circle” (or sharaska) as a scientific center that would be staffed by prisoners (zeks) with scientific expertise. Stalin triggers action in the novel by demanding action (as opposed to optimistic progress reports) on the voice decoder. His progressive paranoia makes it increasingly urgent for security personnel to be able to identify voices on every telephone call. Unlike his portrait, he is an old, mistrustful man in ill health who cannot sleep at night. He decides to live until the age of ninety so that he can finish drawing up plans to guide the “simple people” who he believes love him but who have so many shortcomings.
Lieutenant General Aleksandr “Sasha” Nikolayevich Poskrebyshev
Lieutenant General Aleksandr “Sasha” Nikolayevich Poskrebyshev (poh-skreh-BIH-shehv), the chief of Stalin’s personal secretariat and the closest person to Stalin for fifteen years. A balding man, he has the air of a simpleton yet knows how to treat subordinates, even Stalin’s daughter.
Innokenty Artemyevich Volodin
Innokenty Artemyevich Volodin (ee-noh-KEHN-tee...
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