This first novel by fiction writer Travis Holland is short, and spare, and very moving. Set in Soviet Moscow during the Stanlinist purges of 1939, The Archivist’s Story is loosely based on the arrest and imprisonment of the (real) short story writer Isaac Babel.
Babel has been arrested, his writings seized, and been imprisoned and interrogated at the infamous Lubyanka Prison. A former literature teacher, Pavel Dubrov, works as an archivist at the Lubyanka. His job is to organize, catalog, and eventually incinerate writings seized from Russia’s literary notables. Dubrov meets Babel when he is assigned to authenticate an unsigned work. Soon, Dubrov plans to save Babel’s last, unknown works.
The Archivists’s Story portrays pre-war Moscow as a frightening place. The infrastructure is falling apart, criminals roam the streets, and food is scarce. Muscovites, ordinary and otherwise, live in fear of the knock on the door that means their arrest, torture, and conviction of crimes against the state.
The book is very real and quite disturbing. it is also a good reminder that we need to pay attention to, and understand, recent world history.
Published in hardcover-Dial Press-2007
Softcover edition-Dial Press-2008