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The Archivist's Story [Kindle Edition]

Travis Holland
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $13.00
Kindle Price: $7.99
You Save: $5.01 (39%)
Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

Moscow, 1939. In the recesses of the infamous Lubyanka prison, a young archivist is sent to authenticate an unsigned story confiscated from one of the many political prisoners there. The writer is Isaac Babel. The great author of Red Cavalry is spending his last days forbidden to write, his final manuscripts consigned to the archivist, Pavel Dubrov, who will ultimately be charged with destroying them. The emotional jolt of meeting Babel face-to-face leads to a reckless decision: he will save the last stories of the author he reveres, whatever the cost.

From the margins of history, Travis Holland has woven a tale of the greatest power. Pavel’s private act of courage in the face of a vast bureaucracy of evil invigorates a life that had lost its meaning, even as it guarantees his almost certain undoing. A story of suspense, courage, and unexpected avenues of grace, The Archivist’s Story is ultimately an enduring tribute to the written word.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Story writer Holland's impressive debut novel tracks the plight of disgraced literature teacher and reluctant archivist Pavel Dubrov, whose job, mainly, in 1939 Moscow, is to destroy books at Lubyanka prison, a dank, morbid depository for political prisoners where the boilers rarely work. When an unsigned story is discovered in a prison file, Pavel is ordered to authenticate its author, believed to be Isaac Babel, who is locked up at the prison. Haunted by his conversations with Babel and his love of Babel's work, Pavel steals the manuscript and hides it behind the crumbling bricks of his apartment's basement. (Later, he smuggles out a second manuscript.) He has little to lose: his young wife was killed in a train accident, his mentor is waiting to be carted off to prison for his unwillingness to walk the Party line, and his mother is succumbing to a brain tumor. All around him, literature is being destroyed, from the boxes of manuscripts he prepares for destruction to the page scraps his neighbor and lover Natalya uses to roll her cigarettes. Nearly everything and everyone in the novel is sad and broken, but Holland finds a kernel of hope in Pavel's mission. It's a melancholic and moving tribute to the written word. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Holland's new novel is a disturbing story of governmental censorship set in 1939 Moscow. Pavel Dubrov, a former literature professor, is for all purposes a broken man, having lost his wife in a train accident the year before. As an archivist in the Lubyanka prison, his job is to "weed" the collected manuscripts of writers who are not approved by the government. In the course of his archives work, he is often taken with the beauty of the stories^B he examines, many of which he had taught in his classroom; his gentle touch on the pages just before being forced to incinerate them is hard to read. Pavel is especially taken by the file for the writer Isaac Babel, whom he actually meets in the prison, to ascertain whether a specific manuscript is his. This meeting drives Pavel to the breaking point, and he brings it home to hide in his basement. The unraveling of the plot is depressing and uncomfortable, but there are novels whose value is in the discomfort they evoke. Debi Lewis
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • File Size: 201 KB
  • Print Length: 258 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 038533995X
  • Publisher: The Dial Press (June 19, 2007)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B000SCHB84
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
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  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #775,481 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
I saw this book reviewed in _The New York Times_ Book Review and bought it immediately. As a former Russian language scholar and devoted Russophile, I knew I could not wait for the paperback. The hardback price is worth every penny. This is historical fiction at its finest.

Holland admirably recreates the repressive, paranoid atmosphere of 1930's Stalinist Moscow. He gives us insight -- speculative, of course, but no less perspicacious -- into how individuals caught in that surreal world may have struggled: to survive, to be faithful to friends and family, and to be faithful to themselves. The cameo appearances of famous historical figures (most notably Isaac Babel) adds to the realism. By sheer coincidence, I read Holland's book just as I was re-reading Solzhenitsyn's _Gulag Archipelago_. Holland's ability to create such a realistic atmosphere is chilling. He clearly did his homework.

Some readers could be disappointed if they expect the focus of the book to be on historical figures, but I believe this was not the author's intent. Plenty of first-person accounts and impeccable historians have documented the travails and the bravery of the many great thinkers and artists who suffered under the Stalinist regime. Instead, Holland is clearly focused on "the common man," his reactions, and his attempts to cope. The suffering of these silent millions is often no less noble but certainly less widely documented.

As for the writing itself, Holland's prose is subtle, clear, and understated, all of which matches the quiet tension of the setting. The plot moves along at a sustained, crisp clip but never feels rushed. I found the book a compelling page turner, and I literally stayed up too late reading several nights.

In my opinion, this is a fantastic novel. Mr. Holland has set the bar high, and I eagerly anticipate his next book.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful story of what it is to be human August 20, 2007
By S. West
Given its context of Stalinist Russia, I knew that it was unlikely that The Archivist's Story would be a happy or humorous novel, and I was right. Travis Holland has captured the deadening effect of collectivization on the Russia people and the inhumanity of a society where trust and friendship are rare and fear of authority a daily concern. And yet, it's a story of the power of one man to act courageously in the face of such fear and reprisal, treating decently and humanely even one who hates him.

Pavel Dubrov is a former teacher now assigned to the archives of the infamous Lubyanka Prison, the hellhole into which countless political dissidents, intellectuals, and writers are cast. Pavel works under the insufferable Lieutenant Kutyrev, a true believer in the Revolution. Every day he organizes files containing the manuscripts of writers imprisoned in the Lubyanka, and then, one by one, carries files to the incinerator. It's a particularly distressing task for a teacher, for one who loves books, and it comes to a head over his encounter with an unknown manuscript written by Issac Babel, the well-known writer of Red Calvary. Holland chronicles Pavel's lonely and anguished existence well, contrasting it with the continued humanity he exhibits.

Travis Holland has done well. His prose is accessible and persuasive in rendering 1939 Moscow and lives caught in that place and time. It's a profound first novel and one I recommend.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Truly Excellent August 21, 2007
I was lucky enough to get an advance copy of this book, and immediately started reading it that day. Others have commented about the plot here. I will just say that the story totally drew me in. Like the best of books, it was as if I was right there living the moment with Pavel. I could feel it as the world around him closed in.

I was very sad when I came to the last page. The story stayed with me for a long time after, and very much look forward to Mr. Holland's next novel.

Highly recommended.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars beautiful and frightening all at the same time August 24, 2008
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Ah, too soon was this book over! I finished this one in a very short amount of time (it's just over 200 pages), and was so totally engrossed that I forgot I was sitting on a beautiful, tropical beach in San Juan for a while. Although very disturbing in regards to the picture it paints of a Stalinist USSR, it was an incredible book and I would recommend it highly.
Isaac Babel, an author whose works probably need little or no introduction, has been arrested and now sits in the Lubyanka prison as the novel opens. Pavel Dubrov, the archivist of the title, has been sent to speak to Babel to verify that one of the stories the NKVD has confiscated actually is one of his. In this way, Pavel (aka Pasha) tells Babel, it can be assigned to the proper file in the archives. Out of curiosity, Pavel begins reading it and discovers the beauty of Babel's work and decides to save it, rather than to let it molder in some file or worse, find its way into the constantly-stoked incinerators where thousands of manuscripts and other works found a final home. Pavel knows that doing so will place himself in danger, but things in his past and events in his present lead him to believe that he can perhaps not only redeem himself by saving some of Babel's work, but also (and this gets into the central theme of the novel, imho) perhaps do his bit to change the flow of the history in which he has been caught up on some miniscule level. As he watches those he loves most get caught up in the Stalinist paranoia machine (and these were still in the early days of Stalin's time), he knows he has to do something.
An amazing book, truly. I think anyone interested in the former Soviet Union would really enjoy this book, as well as anyone interested in the topic of censorship. It is very well written; I hope Holland puts out something new very shortly. Highly recommended.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
True literature. Can't believe it's a first novel! This is truly deep thought and feeling, filled with real events and authors.
I highly recommend this!
Published 16 months ago by Susan D. Miller
5.0 out of 5 stars The Impact of Stalinism upon Ordinary Lives
The Stalinist purges assumed monstrous proportions with an opportunity: Sergei Kirov's assassination. Read more
Published on October 13, 2010 by Claudia Moscovici
5.0 out of 5 stars Hidden gem
This book is still with me a month or two after reading it. At the core of this novel is deciding when to stand up against tyranny when you know the consequences for you can be... Read more
Published on September 26, 2010 by trippin toadie
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Read
One of the best books I have read in a long time. From the first page I was drawn in and knew this was going to be hard to stop reading till the end. And it was. Read more
Published on September 22, 2007 by MoonHarvest
5.0 out of 5 stars A treasure
Reading The Archivist's Story left me feeling very tender towards books--the treasures that they are. Read more
Published on September 7, 2007 by Oregon Reader
5.0 out of 5 stars A Masterpiece
Rich, engaging, expertly crafted, and ultimately heartbreaking, "The Archivist's Story" is told with the clinical precision and underlying compassion for the human condition found... Read more
Published on July 13, 2007 by Anthony M. Tambakis
3.0 out of 5 stars high hopes
Isaac Babel is an author dear to my heart. The instant I was made aware of this book I literally rushed to the store, bought a copy , put aside my current reading and dove into... Read more
Published on July 4, 2007 by Anthony Zavarelli
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