A Present Past: Titan and Other Chronicles by Sergei Lebedev [7/10]

Following on from his brilliant literary thriller, Untraceable, which was also a haunting reflection on Soviet/Russian morality (see my review), “A Present Past: Titan and Other Chronicles” gathers up eleven of Sergei Lebedev’s short stories, each the same wonderful mix of realism and poetic dreaminess that I so enjoyed in the novel. Among my favorite stories is “Judge Stomakov,” which begins with a dissection of a judge’s cold-hearted manipulation of a court hearing for personal advancement, and ends with tormented memories. In a tour de force of imaginative writing, “The Night Is Bright Tonight,” characters in the Kremlin, Lubyanka, and Stalin’s Dacha, face the rise of the ghosts of the Gulag. And the standout story is the title one, “Titan,” about a feared writer who returns from the camps and, under intense scrutiny, writes a second novel the only way he can. All the stories burst into life in the author’s stylish hands, as he wrestles with ghosts of the Soviet past slamming into the Russia of the Putin age. A Present Past is a sterling short story collection.

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