The Year of the Comet

New Vessel. Feb. 2017. 275p. tr. from Russian by Antonina W. Bouis. ISBN 9781939931412. pap. $17.95. F
OrangeReviewStarLike his excellent Oblivion, Lebedev's absorbing new work opens with a steadily building account of growing up Soviet. Like those around him, the young narrator must carry the weight of the past—in particular, the consequences of a war that wiped out millions—even as he negotiates the stringent everyday. (Grandmother Tanya gives him a little statue that shows "how people really live—see nothing, hear nothing, say nothing.") He's torn between wanting to be a Soviet hero and learning his antecedents, even as he feels stifled by his family. Then comes 1986, the fateful year of Haley's Comet and Chernobyl, serious omens indeed for a boy always looking for them. Tension ratchets up further with "The Summer of Mister," as the narrator is befriended by an older boy he worships and decides to go after the pedophile killer he's convinced that only a child can see. In the end, he grows up, sadder, wiser, yet "born anew."
VERDICT A seamlessly written child's-eye view that conveys an adult understanding of history's burdens.
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