Анатолий Рыбаков (Anatoly Rybakov's) novel “Дети Арбата” (Children of the Arbat) is a roman-fleuve that draws the portrait of the entire Soviet society in those pivotal years when Stalin consolidated his power. Действие романа охватывает период с 1934 по 1943 годы (The novel covers from 1934 to 1943).
The story begins in the early 1930s, with a group of young people, all living in the same building close to the Old Arbat street. They've all been to school together, they all are good communists and members of the Komsomol, they are all brilliant students ready to enter working life.
But because of a joke misinterpreted by the Party, Sacha one of them, is suspected to be an enemy of the people, and is sent to Siberia for three years.
And while Sacha has to face his destiny, we follow the fate of his schoolmates, of his uncle a great dignitary of the regime who is unable to get his nephew out of the trap of the Party, of dozen of other people. But it is also the first contemporary Russian novel that shows the tragedy of Stalinism, featuring the dictator himself through long monologues.
In this novel, you get to enter into Stalin's thoughts, his conviction of conspiracy from the members of the Party, those whose been faithful from the start, his certainty that to reinforce the cohesion of the Party, it is necessary to create a commission lead by himself to write the history of the Bolshevik Party.
But who can Stalin trust to do this work? Kirov? No, Kirov is not interested in this work. Can he really trust him? Nothing is certain, no one is to be trusted, apart from himself. What he says is the truth. It can't be denied. If the truth changes, it's because Stalin changes, because the world changes. So history has to be changed.
And all those who dare to doubt about the true story of the Party have to be exterminated. This is the beginning of the great purge...
In short this is the kind of book that you can't let aside once you've started it. Everybody can find something that will attract him: adventure, history, philosophy, love story...
Anatoly Rybakov (1911-1998) was born and grew up in the Arbat area. In 1933, he was arrested under Статья 58 Уголовного кодекса РСФСР (the Article 58 of the Russian SFSR Penal Code), sentenced to three years in Siberia, and another for 13 years he was forbidden to come back to Moscow.
This article was put in force on February 25, 1927 to arrest those suspected of counter-revolutionary activities.
Many eminent and ordinary people were arrested, tortured, send to jail or labour camps, executed in the name of this Article, just on suspicion, libellous accusations or by being framed.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, was one of the numerous victims of the system. And this is what he wrote about this Article in his novel “ The Gulag Archipelago”:
"One can find more epithets in praise of this article than Turgenev once assembled to praise the Russian language, or Nekrasov to praise Mother Russia: great, powerful, abundant, highly ramified, multiform, wide sweeping 58, which summed up the world not so much through the exact terms of its sections as in their extended diacritical interpretation."
"Who among us has not experienced its all-encompassing embrace? In all truth, there is no step, thought, action, or lack of action under the heavens which could not be punished by the heavy hand of Article 58."
“Children of the Arbat” is the first part of трилогия (a trilogy) followed by “Страх” (Fear) and “Прах и Пепел” (Dust and Ashes).