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In Godless Alleyways, 2007

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Rights sold to: Russia – VREMYA

Oleg Pavlov, In Godless AlleywaysThe content of Oleg Pavlov's novel fits the formula "childhood, boyhood, youth". The basis of the storyline is the breakup of the hero's family and his parents' divorce. His father's drinking and aimlessness, his sister's animosity, his mother's helplessness, and his grandmother's scheming. The child's soul, alive and untethered, is constantly saddled with unmanageable tasks, wounded with unfeeling cruelty: he is forced to inform on his parents, to choose one and banish the other; at times he is pushed away, at others seduced with a caress, he is spoiled with gifts and attention which then must be paid for with treachery. In the last chapter the storyteller is passed like a ball between various relatives, most of whom he encounters for the first time in his life. This chapter is full of carnival and phantasmagoria – it stands apart from the rest of the novel. The personalities that pass through it remind us more of the rough-hewn masks of street theater. Drama turns into an open farce, stripping the characters of all signs of relation and emotional attachment.

The writer casts a withering and unforgiving gaze from today into the past. Pavlov shows childhood as inevitability, as the first wound administered by creation, from which one is doomed to recover his whole life. But creation is also merciful. The advantage of a child's view of the world is that the child, without the ability to connect meanings into logical chains, is able to create an image of home in the life he is given, to build his little homestead, to become an artist by force of circumstance. Maybe these are the alleyways of memory. The author shares his childhood memories, stylizing his story into the rhythm of a memoir. Pavlov tells of childhood traumas with the kind of amazement that leads the reader to believe that these are the first instances of treason and lying in the history of the world.

Modest in volume but dense in content, this book of an individual fate grows by the end into a portrait of a generation. This generation was fated to live life on a fissure, and it lived not the way it wanted, but the way it could.

At first glance this is just a private biography of the soul. Pavlov takes pains to avoid moral generalization and symbolic weightiness, leaving all of it in the title. But maybe because of this, the book breathes freely and reads with a thrill, like the reader's own biography. At first it seems that action is hopelessly drowning in details. But gradually, as you get comfortable with the text, you start to take pleasure in this detailed narrative. Somehow Pavlov succeeds in getting you involved in his strange world of constantly battling and love-hating adults, at the center of which through the will of Providence appeared this sensitive, observant, easily wounded little hero. It's hard to say what this story has more of: the horrific or the touching. At times it's the most horrible parts, like the father's drunken degradation or the child's attempts at suicide, that end up the most touching.

"In Godless Alleyways" is a novella that connects us to the deepest experience of childhood. The instability of the family's life exposes in the hero an acute ethical sensitivity, thanks to which the history of his childhood is free of the boring superficiality of listing signs, games, and standard events. His childhood seems to be without a way out, such that abandonment and wretchedness, compassion and self-accusation threaten to grow into a lifetime of global fear for the hero. The most painful thing for him is to relive his weakness and uselessness; he constantly reaches out to every living thing, in the hopes of giving someone the warmth that he himself is missing. Misery and defenselessness become for him the chief basis for love – in these creatures and people the hero is able to love an image of himself, weak and deserving, in his eyes, of compassion.