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The Innocent

by David Szalay

Stalinist Russia 1948: Aleksandr, a major in the MGB, is apparently happy to work in a precarious world where your life could be destroyed or lost for voicing the 'wrong' opinions. Looking back in 1972, as Cold war certainties disappear, Aleksandr contemplates the human cost both to himself and to those he dealt with. This book begins with a slightly off-putting chronology and historical note, and initially moves slowly. However, when it gradually changes from the political to the personal it becomes a sad and moving tale of real people caught in the machinations of a ruthless one-party state.

Extract

I think your piece influenced his fate. I thought, until I saw it, that he would be sent to a special prison, to pursue his work in well-fed obscurity, in a mansion surrounded by slash-wire in some Moscow suburb. Probably that did not seem punishment enough for 'Cosmopolitan scum'. He went to a lumber camp in the Far East, and there, in the swamp and forest of a nameless river system, he died. That was in 1951.

Parallels

One Day in the life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
1984 by George Orwell
 

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