Friday, 3 October 2008

the third truth [w. leonid borodin]

The third truth the title of the book refers to appears to be initially the truth that lies between the world of the whites and the reds, the communists and the old regime the Russian revolution displaced. The book's set in Siberian Russia, the nearest town being Irkutsk, but most of the action taking place in the villages on the edge of the Taiga, the unspoilt wilderness. It tells the story of two men, Selivanov and his friend, Ivan Ryabinin. Selivanov comes from doughty peasant stock, taught the ways of the taiga by his father. Ryabinin is a ranger, who nearly captures Selivanov poaching, but is shot by him instead. Selivanov helps his enemy recover, and the two then become friends. Their life is complicated when an old White general appears (who Selivanov's father once helped to escape) with his daughter, with the intention of hiding out in the taiga before he dies. His daughter and Ivan will later marry, before Ryabinin falls foul of the Stalinist authorities and disappears in a gulag for twenty years. When he emerges, only his friend has kept faith in him, keeping in touch with his daughter, and keeping an eye on his home.

This is not a complex book: the storytelling moves backwards and forwards in time, exploring the two protagonist's relationship. It's rooted in character: the contrasting natures of the two men, and how this would appear to have helped determine their respective fates. Borodin himself spent time in Soviet gulags, and his portrayal of Ivan, who may have found God in the camps but does not receive the peace of mind he hoped for on his release, is a touching one. The passage in the closing section where his friend confronts the local KGB officer would, one imagines, have possessed a greater resonance in the time the book was written, and be testament to a kind of courage its harder to appreciate now.

Nevertheless, the book's power, beyond its exploration of the two men's friendship, comes now from its description of the way their bond was formed by a shared love of the Siberian taiga. There are a multitude of third ways, or truths, to be discovered in this world, but it feels now as though this might be exploring the path, increasingly vital, which must be found between the world of nature and man. When Ivan returns to the taiga after twenty years, he finds it altered by mankind's meddling. Both men have learnt how to use their relationship with the wilderness to create meaning and a sense of place in the world, a sense of place which is corrupted by the man-made business of politics. Borodin rarely seems to openly confront a system which repressed both nature and himself: life goes on in these villages no matter what the changing of the political guard, and a wily peasant will always find a way to survive; but the bulldozers that dig up the wilderness and summon up a vision of hell for Ivan seem to portend a greater threat, one which brings about the final rupture of the two men's friendship.

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