Redemption by Friedrich Gorenstein

Redemption

Redemption by Friedrich Gorenstein

Russian Fiction

Original title – Iskuplenie

Translator – Andrew Bromfield

Source – personnel copy

 

I move further east after my Croatian return and to the Russian Library series of books I have been buying these the last year or so. I love the covers and they are bringing out a mixture of lost classics and modern classics. Here we see the exiled Russian writer Friedrich Gorenstein a Jewish writer whose father was arrested and Shot by Stalin. He worked as a screenwriter and novelist he is maybe best known as the screenwriter of Solaris the well known Russian film by Andrei Tarkovsky. He finally left Russia in the late seventies and his books came out. The title of the book is redemption in English but atonement in German as the Russian word has meaning between the two words.

It was Sashaenka’s first ball. She had been reparing for it a long time, a whole week, since got her an invitation through the local special trade committee. Sashaenka had washed every day with a special war-trophy lotion brought at a stret market, wound curlers into her hair, rubbed eau de cologne into her skin and , for  the first time in her life, painted her lips in a little cupid’s bow and powdered her cheeks. And now there was Genral Batunuya’s son whispering something to his friends and glancing furtively at sashenka’s calves in their covering of cream lisle cotton. Sashaenka sttod in line, shwed her invitation,and reciever a present at a competitive market price.

THe Ball she tried hard to perfect fall but all wasn’t perfect fore her in this imperfect post war soviet world.

The books open in 1945 the war is over and the New year is happening and in the town of Berdichev, a town which is now  in  Ukraine Sashenka a sixteen year girl who has end up there when her father a pilot in the war died and her mother brought to this mainly Jewish town at the time. A young woman that has managed to avoid the Nazis and crippling illness to now as the war ends to start blooming into a woman. She runs off to a Ball but is shocked when a fellow guest at the ball points out the lice on her clothes and she blames her mother. But she hates the fact that her mother has a new lover she is trying to get her family by but the daughter doesn’t see this? She then decides to denounce her mother as a petty thief. Whilst at the same time she has a new man in tow. So when she meets a young Jewish Lieutenant August that has come home to bury his family she helps him find his family from the unmarked graves they are in to give them a decent burial. What will happen to her and her mother? and her relationship in this new post-war Soviet era!

“My mother” Sashenka wrote,”is a pilferer of Soviet property. I repudiate her and now wish to be only the daughter of my father , who died for the motherland …” Sashenka tried to forcefully, but the pen  splashed and scratched, and although the paper was lined, like in a school exercise book, the letters jumped about and the lines or writing either crept upward or curvred downward.Sashenka simply couldn’t think of what to write about Vasya,Olga, and the master of ceremonies, Shethought it would be a good thing to put something in about Batiunya, and Markeev, and Zara with her gold pendants, and in genral everyone who had laughed at Sashaenka and mocked her.

The aftermath of the ball she lashes out like many a ytoung woman at first with her mother , but could have been others!

This is a tough book that has the brutal nature of war at its heart from the loss of a father and the loss of parents in August case both due to the war. The daughter trying to come of age but also like most kids of the age she hates that her mother seems to have forgotten her dead heroic father. The story in the book echos part of his own story he was a boy who with his mother fled across to Uzbekistan. But she died mirroring the illness that Sashenka had. He also was brought by family to the town the book is sent in post-war so would have known the atmosphere he paints of hunting out those that helped the German in the war with neighbor turning on neighbor as the war years start to turn on each other as the dark daily world of the Soviet life starts to come clear in those early weeks of 1946 as the wounds are still raw. A powerful book and one that shows how good these Russian library choices are!

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