The Green Lantern: A Romance of Stal­in­ist Russia

  • Review
By – July 9, 2012

Charyn’s lat­est nov­el is a cap­ti­vat­ing tour de force, a recre­ation of Russ­ian life in the 1930s, with believ­able char­ac­ters, an intrigu­ing sto­ry line, and con­vinc­ing back­ground details. 

The Russ­ian lan­guage is impor­tant here; while Charyn does not pro­vide a glos­sary of terms, a num­ber of them can be obtained from the text or inferred from the nar­ra­tive. One sig­nif­i­cant exam­ple, with impli­ca­tions for char­ac­ter depic­tion, is che­lovek: man, espe­cial­ly he-man. Two the­mat­ic ele­ments struc­ture the nar­ra­tive. One, the supreme Boss, the”Khozyain,” Stal­in him­self. His per­va­sive brood­ing pres­ence — whether or not he actu­al­ly appears in a par­tic­u­lar scene — is like inde­ter­mi­nate and some­times illog­i­cal Fate, capa­ble of decree­ing life or death or ban­ish­ment to a Siber­ian prison, for any of his sub­jects. This affects the out­look of those help­less ones, not only polit­i­cal dis­senters, but society’s remain­ing artists, per­form­ers, enter­tain­ers. The oth­er is Shakespeare’s King Lear, the sta­ple offer­ing of the Tiflis Trav­el­ing Play­ers, whose roman­tic intrigues, tri­als and tribu­la­tions in a dispir­it­ed Stal­in­ist soci­ety pro­vide the dynam­ics of the plot. At the end, Ivan, the che­lovek in full (a nat­ur­al King Lear), and his wife” Valenti­na (a nat­ur­al Cordelia), return to their old roles, per­form­ing for the demand­ing Stal­in again, impris­oned inside Shakespeare’s play.

Samuel I. Bell­man is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus at Cal­i­for­nia State Poly­tech­nic Uni­ver­si­ty of Pomona. He has been writ­ing on Jew­ish Amer­i­can writ­ers since 1959.

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