Tuesday, May 4, 2021

New Russian Novel about Izhevsk Family in First Putin Years Highlights Eternal Problems of Fathers and Sons

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 2 – A debut novel about the lives of a father and son in the Urals city of Izhevsk during Putin’s first years in power is winning praise for going beyond the usual “provincial” themes and tying them to the eternal problems of fathers and sons that were exacerbated by the changes during that period.

            Pavel Manylov’s Papa (litres.ru/pavel-manylov/papa/) traces the interaction between a father who works in an ambulance despite low pay because of his commitment to saving lives and a son who will do anything to make money and thus ends by betraying everything his father holds dear.

            That conflict, reviewer Anna Berseneva says, elevates the novel from being one of dozens about life in a small Russian city into a discussion of the most profound issues that Russians and others face with the passing of generations who necessarily respond to challenges they see as different (newizv.ru/news/culture/02-05-2021/pavel-manylov-debyutiroval-angliyskim-romanom-o-rossiyskoy-provintsii).

            “The novel’s action occurs in the first half of the aughts in Izhevsk,” Berseneva says, “True, the city is not named in the novel and it will be recognized only by those who were there at the time. But this is a good thing: the typicality of urban subjects of a Russian urban center only emphasize the typicality of the circumstances of the novel’s story.”

            The father in the story is absolutely committed to two things: his work as an emergency cardiologist who can save lives and his son who has chosen another way, seeking wealth anywhere he can find it without regard to consequences, a typical story of post-1991 Russian reality that has rarely been better told, the reviewer says.

            On the one hand, she continues, one knows how such a novel must end; but on the other, it is not just the ending that matters but the courses the two men follow in getting there. In that, Berseneva says, Manylov displays a talent for description and plot that belie the fact that this is his first novel and that give new hope for the future of Russian literature. 

            The reviewer suggests that one of the novel’s strengths is its resemblance to English novels about life outside London, about the ways in which people may be profoundly affected by what happens in the capital and also and very much at the same time continue their own lives along trajectories that what goes on there don’t affect.

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