(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

In the Prologue, the first narrator, Savely Kuzmich Proferansov, sets the stage by describing the town of Lyubimov as small but progressive, with a number of intellectuals, and characterizes himself as rational and literate, although his timid asides and conclusions reveal his own cowardice and superstitiousness. An avid reader of governmentally approved literature, he finds beginning the narrative difficult and describes his writing as though it were something he is impelled to do.

The first chapter tells how at a May Day parade, the leader Comrade Tishchenko installs Leonard Makepeace (Leonid Tikhomirov), a simple bicycle repairman, as the supreme ruler. No one questions the sudden change; Lenny promises peace and freedom. Tishchenko attempts to escape but is subdued by Makepeace, a struggle which later became a folk legend that the narrator discounts, even though he presents the folk legend rather than the true account.

In the second chapter, the narrator reveals the background of Lenny’s rise to power. To win the love of the beautiful Serafima Petrovna, Makepeace agrees to lay the city at her feet. He begins reading voraciously, and one day a book, The Magnet of the Soul, falls to his feet from the ceiling. The book tells him how to gain mental control over others; Makepeace sees this gift not only as a means to power but also as an opportunity to do good for the town, and, through mind control, he has himself installed as ruler. At this point in his storytelling, the narrator is interrupted by a voice that first appears in the footnotes and eventually dominates the main text. The voice reveals itself as that of the Professor, an acquaintance of Savely who in 1926 urged him to write the story of Lyubimov. The Professor now tells Savely that he is also Samson Samsonovich Proferansov, an ancestor of the narrator and the author of the book that enabled Makepeace to rise to power. From this point forward, Samson controls the narrative, often becoming the narrator himself.

In the regional center of X, Lieutenant Colonel Almazov receives a report from the Secret Police chief Maryamov telling of the revolution. Almazov leads an...

(The entire section is 889 words.)