Solovyov and Larionov

Written by Eugene Vodolazkin
Review by John Kachuba

Russian novels are hefty and generally involve a sweeping panorama of people and events. Solovyov and Larionov is cast in that same mode, but author Vodolazkin adds a refreshing slant to the novel, traveling back and forth through time, connecting the lives of his two eponymous protagonists.

Solovyov is a St. Petersburg graduate student who is assigned the biography of General Larionov as his thesis. The General was an aristocrat in Imperial Russia who sided with the White Army during the Russian Civil War. He bravely managed to save his army as it retreated from Red Army forces in Crimea. The General allowed himself to be captured but he was not executed. He was permitted to return home and, unmolested by the new Soviet regime, died at an old age. The question for Solovyov is: why was the General allowed to live?

Seeking to solve the mystery, Solovyov travels to Yalta, where Larionov spent his last days. There he meets the charming Zoya, the daughter of the General’s last caretaker, who promises to help him find the missing pages of Larionov’s memoirs.

In his quest, Solovyov’s entire life is strung out for the reader, like developing photos hanging on a darkroom wire. The General’s life is also laid bare as Solovyov uncovers more pages of his memoirs. Award-winning author Vodolazkin seamlessly weaves together the lives of his two heroes, setting them against a background beginning with the sunset days of Imperial Russia and ending with modern Russia. Within that rich historical span, he focuses on Solovyov and Larionov and draws them out as complex and intriguing characters. Told with some wit and wry humor, this coming-of-age story offers the reader a much richer experience than mere biography. Highly recommended, Solovyov and Larionov should not be missed.