Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 684
Pyotr Vasilievich Lashkov
Pyotr Vasilievich Lashkov (pyohtr vah-SIH-leh-vihch LASH-kov), an elderly Communist Party functionary who becomes a Christian. In the winter of his life, Pyotr, a self-righteous autocrat and a faithful Communist, realizes that he is isolated from his relatives and from other people, without any meaningful relationship, and facing bleak emptiness. Deciding to renew his neglected family ties, after all of his six children have abandoned him, he visits one close relative after another, only to discover that most of them have not fared much better. His daughter Antonina fills the void in Pyotr’s later life with her religious zeal and with renewed faith in the future, symbolized by her newborn son. Pyotr belatedly realizes that being an honest but stern Communist, without a genuine rapport with fellow human beings, leads to alienation and general resentment by others. With the help of several people (Antonina, Gupak, and his two grandsons), he enriches his empty existence through love and caring for other people. He is finally able to reconcile his Communist beliefs with an active and loving religion. The final words of the novel symbolize his spiritual rebirth: “He went, and he knew. He knew, and he believed.”
Andrei Lashkov, his brother, a warden in the Kurakin forest. Although driven by the same urge as all the Lash-kovs—to bring honor and justice into life and to do what is best for everybody—Andrei chooses a different path. Instead of wielding political power, he opts for forest service, for only in closeness to nature and in communion with the forest does he feel at peace. He thus escapes the silent agony endured by his older brother.
Vasilii Lashkov (vah-SIH-lee), another brother, a janitor in Moscow. Vasilii escapes the tutelage and domination of Pyotr by moving to Moscow, but at the price of a drab, joyless life and of his being alienated from everyone and everything. Even though he is his own man, he is so embittered that even a belated visit by Pyotr fails to restore a good relationship that may have brought happiness.
Antonina Lashkov, Pyotr’s daughter, whose return home with an infant son reinforces Pyotr’s belief in religion. A middle-aged woman who has become an alcoholic, she finds happiness and peace late in life, not so much through actual happenings as through a religious awakening. She is able to convey that message to her influential but frustrated father. Together, they find a new meaning in life through love and genuine concern for each other and for fellow human beings, finally realizing that they are not alone in this world but a part of the unity of all things.
Vadim Lashkov (vah-DIHM), Pyotr’s grandson, a debauched variety artist. At times, Vadim reflects the author’s own experiences as a young man. Finding himself in the spiritual and moral desert of Soviet society, Vadim gropes in the dark for a long time. He, too, finds peace with himself and fulfillment through his art, though not before he suffers through a painful period of heartache, misunderstanding, and alienation. Always surrounded by strangers and always doing the wrong things, constantly on the move and never having time to get attached to things, Vadim finally becomes reconciled with his grandfather (who needs him more than Vadim needs him, as the only male offspring of the family until Antonina’s son is born). More important, he, like Antonina and Pyotr, is helped by the religious soul-healer Gupak. Even though the results are not visible yet, Vadim is on his way to total recovery.
Gupak (gew-PAK), an elderly friend of the Lashkovs. A religious fanatic, in a positive sense, Gupak is able to spread his beneficial influence and help several people searching for salvation. His belief in traditional Christian values parallels those of the author himself; such belief indicates the resurgence of a religious life among the Soviet populace thirsty for spiritual rebirth. His stoic acceptance of his impending death from cancer underlines the strength of his faith, which he is able to convey to others.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 360
Having been exposed to the harshness of orphanages and reform schools, and later to the confinement of mental hospitals, Vladimir Maximov sensitively sketches his characters, all of whom feel estranged from themselves and from society. They attempt to counteract their deplorable situation with a yearning for relationships and with loving concern for others. An Orthodox Christian, Maximov believes religion is the hope for these disillusioned Russians. His background as an itinerant bricklayer informs the peripatetic life-style of his characters. At the same time, his career as a poet and playwright allows him to create articulate characters who express a vivid love of nature. Pyotor, the protagonist, becomes increasingly sensitive to the wonders of creation as he seeks to renew ties with estranged relatives. At the end of the novel, when Pyotor carries his infant grandson toward the horizon of a dawning spring day, Maximov describes his response to the glorious occasion: “He went, and he knew. He knew, and he believed.”
Pyotor’s ability to satisfy his yearnings and his desire to begin again eventually convert the elderly Communist to Christianity. Gupak, a recurring character, expounds traditional religious values to Pyotor, as well. Gupak charitably befriends Antonina and in his relationships with others demonstrates principles which form the basis of religion.
Vadim’s life experience parallels Maximov’s youthful rebellion and travel throughout Russia. Both see distress in the eyes of their compatriots and empathize with their fear of alienation from society. Like Maximov, Vadim expresses skill with words and shrewdness in establishing an identity in the minds of others.
Women play a forceful role in this novel. Among them, Alexandra, Andrei’s wife, exhibits feminist qualities. Although sarcastic, she works hard, gaining the respect of the men on the cattle drive. She wins Pyotor’s admiration when, in later years, he attends her marriage to Andrei. Pyotor appreciates her attempt at “wresting her share of belated happiness from fate at long last.” Antonina offers greater depth of characterization. Initially she appears as a middle-aged drunk who lacks purpose; after converting to Christianity and suffering in a work camp, she returns home bearing the gift of rebirth: her infant son.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 37
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Gray, Paul. Review in Time. CV (February 3, 1975), p. 68.
Moore, Harry T., and Albert Parry. Twentieth-century Russian Literature, 1974.
Rubenstein, Joshua. Review in The New York Times Book Review. LXXX (February 23, 1975), p. 10.