The Independent Foreign Fiction Award: Smiling and spiteful workers: 'The Moment Between The Past and The Future' - Grigorij Baklanov (Faber, 14.99)
Saturday 07 May 1994
The other books on the shortlist are The Infinite Plan by
Isabel Allende, translated from Spanish by Margaret Sayers Peden (HarperCollins); Fima by Amos Oz, translated from Hebrew by Nicholas de Lange (Chatto & Windus); The Road to San Giovanni by Italo Calvino, translated from
Italian by Tim Parks (Jonathan Cape); The Following Story by Cees Nooteboom, translated from Dutch by Ina Rilke (HarperCollins), and The Sorrow of War by Bao Ninh,
translated from French by Katerina Pierce, and from Vietnamese by Vo Bang Thanh and Than Thanh Hao (Secker & Warburg).
The Moment Between The Past and The Future is set in Russia during the Brezhnev years. Its hero, Evgeny Usvatov, leads the relatively easy life of the cultural elite. But as the end nears for the government that has sustained him, he falls further and further into fear and confusion.
Throughout a life spent working on abstract issues he had eagerly seized every opportunity to write about the 'people' as creators of language. He always imagined the people to be rather like Klava the dairymaid, who brought the milk each morning and poured it from her big churn in a thick yellow stream into their can on the porch. 'Drink up, my lovelies, it's all fresh from the cow]' she would say with a bright smile on her round weather-beaten face.
One day when some workers were securing the foundations of his garage, he saw that instead of piling in builders' rubble they were levering a freshly uprooted clay-covered tree-stump into the foundations with their crowbar. Incensed, Elagin rushed out on to the balcony in his heavy camel-hair dressing- gown with the silk cord. 'What the hell do you think you're doing?' he shouted down to them. 'You should be ashamed . . ]'
Hanging her churn and her string bag on the handlebars of her motor cycle, the kindly Klava, who had brought him his milk all these years, did not berate the workers as she should have done but laughed spitefully. Her face at that moment frightened and confused him.
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