Solovyov is a young historian, living in St. Petersburg. He grew up somewhere in the south; the village’s only name was its railroad mileage designation – Kilometer 715. His mother worked as a signaling worker for the railroad; when she died, his grandmother took her job for time, but then the railroad closed the station. His closest friend was a girl, Leeza (for Elizabeth) Larionova, but Solovyov left the village to study at university. He hasn’t seen Leeza for six years.
What the young historian has made the major focus of study is General Larionov (he seems always to have been called General, even as a child). The man (1882-1976) served as a general in the White (pro-tsarist) Army during the Russian Civil War. Many things are unknown about the general, despite the historical research done by many people.
Solovyov determines to solve what is perhaps the biggest mystery of the general’s life: facing a victorious Red Army, Larionov saw his army off on ships sailing from Crimean ports. The general himself remained. He didn’t attempt to hide or disguise himself; the Reds knew who he was. Most expected him to be tortured and then killed. Instead, he was left alone, and he lived in Yalta for the rest of his life before dying of old age. His survival made no sense, and no one has been able to explain it.
Solovyov’s decision to solve the mystery takes him to the Crimea, to walk the same streets as the general walked in Yalta, to visit the people who were the general’s friends (or the children f his friends). He will learn that a significant clue is back in Kilometer 715, with his childhood friend. And he will come to understand that history isn’t so much written and studied as it is lived, that the general’s story will become his own story.
Solovyov and Larionov is the first novel published by Eugene Vodolazkin (in Russian, in 2012). It was translated and published in English in 2018, after his novels Laurus and The Aviator. It is the broad sweep of the last days of the Russian Civil War. It is about what it means to study history, and how history is often found in very unexpected places. It’s about finding oneself in many of those unexpected places. And it is a novel about railroads and travel, journeys to learn and discover, and sometimes journeys to escape.
In short, it is a very Russian novel written by a native Ukrainian. Translated by Lisa Hayden, Solovyov and Larionovmoves gradually but brilliantly to only what can be called its inevitable end.
A native of Kiev, Vodolazkin works in the department of Old Russian Literature at the Pushkin House in St. Petersburg, where he is an expert in medieval Russian history and folklore. His novel Laurus won the National Big Book Award and the Yasnaya Polyana Award and had been translated into 18 languages. He lives in St. Petersburg; his new novel, A History of the Island, will be published in May.
Laurus by Eugene Vodolazkin.
The Aviator by Eugene Vodolazkin.
Brisbane by Eugene Vodolazkin.