It appears to me that Pavel is always waiting for the worst to happen and ‘throws himself on the altar of human sacrifice’ in this chilling little tale. Firstly he sacrifices his teaching job by denouncing a colleague on the ‘say so’ of his students and then probably realises his mistake. He is tortured by the death of his wife and the disappearance of his friend Semyon. Is his redemption (in his own mind), I wonder, the inferred self-sacrifice in the end in order to save Babel’s manuscripts, his mother and Victor and his family? Charlotte



What do you think happens to Natalya  – will she suffer because of her connection to Pavel?  Viv

Pavlik Morozov

Can you imagine living in a world where children are actively encouraged to betray even their own families (page 37). Here is described ‘the martyred boy hero of every ‘Young Pioneer” – ‘ but his great glory will outlive everything’. Of course this ploy has been used in many other places throughout history but I cannot think of a more unsettling environment to live in. Oh the innocence of youth.

This article in Daily Mail 22 September 2007

Prisoners entering Moscow’s Lubyanka Prison in 1928

Traitors in the family: Stalin’s informers.
Neighbours. Friends. Even your closest loved ones. In Stalin’s Russia, everyone was an informer. And as a chilling new book reveals, one word from a resentful child was enough to send you to the firing squad.

When two teenage boys were found stabbed to death in a forest in western Siberia, investigators decided that they had been killed by their own relations, because one of the youngsters had denounced his father to Stalin’s Soviet authorities.

The case in September 1932 became a cause celebre in Russia and the dead boy was hailed as a martyr to the people’s cause.

He had chosen loyalty to the State in preference to the pernicious bourgeois notion of duty to a parent. It had been alleged that his father, Trofim Morozov, was a kulak, a rich peasant from the class which Stalin had set out to exterminate as he collectivised every farm in the Soviet Union.

More than a million so- called kulaks were dispossessed of their lands, evicted from their homes and shipped eastwards in long columns of human misery, to labour in the camps of the Gulag – and later, likely enough, to be shot, as was Trofim Morozov.
Heaven knows what boyish grievance persuaded his 15-year-old son Pavlik to denounce him.

The teenager was a “Pioneer”, a member of the Soviet youth movement, a perversion of the Scouts, which trained its members to believe that to inform against the people’s enemies represented a high ideal, that to betray one’s own family was the highest good of all.

At Trofim’s trial, he cried out despairingly to his son in the witness box: “It’s me, your father!” Pavlik said coldly to the judge: “Yes; he used to be my father, but I no longer consider him my father. I am not acting as a son, but as a Pioneer.”

This victory against his father, however, provoked Pavlik to a rash boldness – denouncing others in the village. In their rage, they killed him.

The murder was probably the work of local teenagers, but the Soviet authorities held a show trial of the family, following which Pavlik’s grandfather, grandmother, cousin and godfather were all sent to the firing squad.

Lubyanka before 1917 before use as a Prison – headquarters All Rusia Insurance Company

Lubyanka in 2003


‘Weeding’ in The Archivist’s Story

Did anyone else share my horror at the word ‘weeding’ on page 11. This, to me, not only infers the destruction of these wonderful manuscripts but also the culling of their authors. Many bad images spring to mind here – not just Stalin’s Russia but Hitler’s Germany and so on. Of course the french for weed is mauvaise (bad) herbe so maybe some deep psychological connection here, a clever play on words or just a coincidence?