Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 770
The Seven Days of Creation chronicles the anguished searching of three generations of the Lashkov family for the meaning of human suffering. In six chapters, each representing a weekday preceding Sunday, the author portrays the increasing cynicism and growing alienation of this Russian family and the subsequent attempts of its members to attain a rewarding life and to rejoin the human family safely and hopefully.
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In the course of the novel, the characters travel across Russia literally and spiritually, seeking more redeeming relationships. Specific incidents prompt dreams and flashbacks. The activities and interactions of family members elicit varying responses, some empathic and others accusative.
One July dawn, the intractable Pyotor Lashkov awakens to the bitter realization that he has alienated himself from his family and friends. Sensitive, however, to his middle-aged daughter’s drunken despondency, he resolves to renew human ties. When he seeks to pay respects to the family of a deceased acquaintance, he mistakenly visits a home in which religious services are being held. This encounter foreshadows the eventual conversion of the elderly atheist.
When his bewildered grandson, Vadim, visits, Pyotor advises the despairing young man to find solace with Pyotor’s brother Andrei, a warden in the Kurakin forest. In a flashback, Pyotor recalls his own disturbing visit with the shell-shocked Andrei, before Andrei became a warden. Yearning to revive family attachments, Pyotor seeks out his brother Vasilii in Moscow, whom he has not seen for more than forty years. The brothers are so ill at ease that when Vasilii goes out to buy more liquor, Pyotor hastens away,repulsed by the stench and premature decay in the room.
The first chapter, “Monday: A Traveler in Search of Himself,” relates several other attempts to amend self-indulgences. Antonina marries Nikolai Leskov; it is an ill-fated marriage, but one which promises some redeeming fulfillment. Acknowledging responsibility for his estrangement from family and friends, Pyotor resolves to rectify his errors and to reestablish family ties, hoping by this change to ensure the preservation of both his family and the country that he loves.
The second chapter, “Tuesday: The Cattle Drive,” details Andrei’s first assumption of a leadership role: evacuating cattle from Uzlovsk and the surrounding district, which stretches to the distant mountains. As he has never been one to give orders, Andrei initially lacks the confidence to act with authority. Nevertheless, he succeeds in saving the life of a lame concertina player, befriending a philosophical veterinarian, herding freezing cattle into a church, and transporting a critically ill child to a doctor. Seduced by the sharp-tongued yet respected Alexandra, he refuses to flaunt their affair and becomes a target for her vituperative reproaches. In the course of time, they resolve their differences and marry.
Vasilii’s interactions with the tenants in his building form the basis of the third chapter, “The Yard at the Midpoint of Heaven.” These residents, a motley crew, form an extended family as they share one another’s joys and sorrows. For example, they help Otto Stabel, an Austrian plumber, erect a house for himself and his beloved wife, Grusha. Everyone suffers when the authorities require portions of the walls demolished in order to conform with building specifications. Such restrictions exemplify the governmental control that negates individual creativity. A frail woman, Shokolinist, who was the original mistress of the house, adds a supernatural quality. Continuing to collect overdue books for the library, this wraith outlives Vasilii, who dies observing her in the yard where Stabel’s house had been.
The fourth chapter, “Late Light,” begins with Vadim’s observing the snowy streets of Moscow as he rides to the hospital. The vivid description of his ward parallels scenes in other Russian works, such as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Rakovy korpus (1968; Cancer Ward, 1968). Visits from Pyotor and special treatment by the hospital director, who ultimately commits suicide, do not deter Vadim from escaping with the aid of a nurse and Natasha, a young woman whom he has befriended.
“Friday: The Labyrinth,” the fifth chapter, recounts the experiences of Antonina and Nikolai as they join a building work team in Central Asia. Attracted to the Jewish foreman, Osip Meckler, Antonina sleeps with him, comforting him in his despair at realizing that the team is building a prison. When he commits suicide and Nikolai is imprisoned, she writes to her Christian friends, seeking assistance.
In “The Evening and Night of the Sixth Day,” Pyotor visits the friends of the deceased Vasilii, attends the wedding of Andrei and Alexandra, and welcomes home Antonina and her infant son, who bears his name. Tenderly clutching his grandson, Pyotor strides into the spring dawn.