Generations of Winter by Vassily Aksyonov

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Generations of Winter

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

GENERATIONS OF WINTER, the first of a two-volume project, is a large work in every respect. Its geographical range extends from the concentration camps of Kolyma to the Western Front of World War II. Its social and cultural dimensions embrace a bravura reconstruction of the social and cultural life of Tbilisi, capitol of Georgia, during the early years of the century. Historically, it provides a behind-the-scenes look at the machinations of Stalin and his henchmen, as well as a wealth of detail which re-creates the textures and tonalities of daily life in Soviet society. It is a treasury of Russian literature and of twenty years of Soviet popular culture. It is a hymn to Moscow and also to the courage, endurance, and bitter fate of the author’s fellow-countrymen. Aksyonov’s references to WAR AND PEACE, though lightly made, also demand to be taken seriously.

At the center of the story is the Gradov family. Their passions and commitments place them in the forefront of the period’s ideological, military, and cultural history. Although three generations of the family are represented, most attention is devoted to the one entering adulthood during the Stalinist consolidation of the Bolshevik Revolution. In various ways, the Gradovs of this generation— Nikita, Kirill, and Nina—become victims of the revolutionary cause with which they had originally identified. The gradual but inexorable erosion of their lives, liberty, and pursuit of happiness is shown in intimate detail from a panoramic perspective. Yet, even though the Gradov family as a social unit is destroyed, its human essence persists, precisely as a result of the vicissitudes it undergoes. The result is a magisterial novel whose bitter ironies and graphic scenes of cruelty and waste both denounces the values of a specific system and ennobles the human experience of them.