If anything, these last few years at the Lubyanka have taught him that one must always be attentive to signs: an angry word, an unintended gesture the first faint milky cracks in the ice. He has seen what happens to people who failed to read the warnings, who refused to believe that the beautiful, bright world they inhabited could one day fall upon them like a hobnailed heel, crushing them into dust.
Nonetheless, in the face of certain arrest, Pavel Dubrov chooses decency, to take care of his mother, to guard the memory of a few friends, and to save the two stories. It is a kind of redemption, however tentative.
Travis Holland's success in The Archivist's Story is that he is able to draw us into this world, fearing for Pavel even as we recognize his weakness and his likely failure. He has created the details of the gray Soviet city but also gives sharp moments of beauty in the landscape and in the people who inhabit the concrete apartment complexes. He never feels the need to lecture the reader on the consequences of the story he tells. It is a story I finished in tears, wishing that it could have gone on and on, wishing for a different history.
Travis Holland reads from The Archivist's Story at Shaman Drum Bookshop on Wednesday, June 20.