(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

A Tomb for Boris Davidovich consists of seven loosely related stories, which could be read separately. They all share one element, however, that gives them an organic unity. The first story, “The Knife with the Rosewood Handle,” takes place, for the most part, in Bukovina, a part of Romania (now part of the Soviet Union) in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Miksha, a handyman who “could sew on a button in ten seconds,” works for a Jewish shopkeeper until he is fired for skinning a skunk in his master’s yard. Afterward, Miksha becomes acquainted with a revolutionary, Aimicke, who introduces him to the underground. In their secret activity, they suspect that a police informer is in their midst. Miksha takes it upon himself to uncover and punish the traitor; he decides that the traitor is a young girl named Hanna Krzyzewska and murders her. Later, it turns out that it was Aimicke who was informing the police about the group’s activities. Miksha, who has fled to the Soviet Union, is arrested and induced to confess that he worked for the Gestapo, in the process implicating twelve Russian officials, who, with Miksha, receive sentences of twenty years of hard labor.

In the second story, “The Sow That Eats Her Farrow,” a disenchanted Irishman, Gould Vershoyle, leaves his homeland in search of a better place to live. He winds up fighting for the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War. When he informs his commander of his suspicion that Moscow is masterminding the war (not knowing that his superior is a Soviet agent), Vershoyle is sent to the Soviet Union, where he perishes in the gulag in 1945.

In “The Mechanical Lions,” Edouard Herriot, the leader of the French Radical Socialists, is intrigued by the Soviet system of government and makes a visit to the Soviet Union in...

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