(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

While the thrust of Yuri Trifonov’s plot in The Old Man concerns Pavel Letunov’s recollections of certain events during and after the Russian Revolution of 1917, there is a complementary subplot in which Pavel is at odds with his own family regarding the acquisition of a dacha. It is 1973, and Pavel,the old man of the title, is spending the summer at his dacha near Moscow.He receives a letter from an old friend, Asya, which triggers his memories of the impetuous and violent days of the Russian Revolution and the civil war that followed.

Through kaleidoscopic digression, Pavel reconstructs the events which led him, Asya, and her cousin Volodya to join the Bolsheviks, who eventually were to seize power and set Russia into a frenzied spin culminating in the bloody civil war. It was during the civil war that Sergei Migulin, a prominent revolutionary leader and hero, became the vortex of events embroiling Pavel and Asya, then Migulin’s wife; although a respected hero, Migulin was labeled a traitor and executed. Asya’s letter, years later, compels Pavel to search his memory to find the “truth” regarding Migulin’s trial and execution.

Pavel’s quest for the truth of these events leads him to other “truths” as well. His search for the ultimate truth becomes the leitmotif of the novel: What is truth? Is there a generic truth? Does truth exist a priori or a posteriori? Is truth based on ideology, or is it situational, depending on specific times and places?

In his youth, Pavel was infatuated with Asya and vied for her attention even though he was too young to warrant her notice as anything other than a good friend. Pavel, Asya, and Volodya were inseparable before and after the Revolution. Together they roamed the streets of Petrograd, caught up in the excitement of the Revolution: the protests, marches, proclamations, and meetings. The ideals of Pavel’s romantic revolutionary uncle Shura and of his activist mother stirred them. Those were heady times, but the memory of Migulin overshadows Pavel’s...

(The entire section is 839 words.)