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The Archivist's Story

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For fans of Fyodr Dostoyevsky, Christopher Isherwood and Isaiah Berlin Inspired by a once-classified KGB file on Isaac Babel, one of Russia's greatest short-story writers, who was executed by the Stalinist regime in 1939 Published 70 years after the peak of Stalin's Great Terror, guaranteeing major media attention

About the Author

Travis Holland has an MFA from the University of Michigan, where he was twice awarded the Avery and Jule Hopwood Award as well as the Meijer Award. His stories have appeared in Ploughshares, Glimmer Train and Five Points. He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. This is his first novel.


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 2007 Reed Business Information.

Travis Holland writes exquisitely. THE ARCHIVIST'S STORY is that very rare book, a historical novel that makes us forget 'historical' and remember only 'novel' even as we take in hard historical fact - the archivist Pavel, living in the midst of Stalin's purges, could be any of us, and Holland conveys his world in indelible images. The beauty and reality of this novel linger long after one has read - reluctantly - its last page. Elizabeth Kostova, author of THE HISTORIAN

Pavel Dubrov is an archivist in the notorious Lubyanka prison during dictator Stalin's murderous purges. One day in 1939, he comes face to face with the imprisoned Isaac Babel, who has reputedly written a confiscated story that the archivist must authenticate. This confrontation between the merciless Soviet state and one of its eminent but doomed citizens could take your breath away. Pavel deals as compassionately as he can with the prisoner, then decides to steal the story from the NKVD's archives and try to save it. In the perilous days ahead for Pavel, first novelist Holland, in straightforward, unadorned prose, reveals the horrors of everyday life for Soviet citizens as they attempt to earn a living, protect their families, and simply survive. There is a quiet authenticity about Holland's writing that draws you in, and soon you will find yourself sitting on the edge of your seat, silently cheering for his characters. Readers will want to hear more from the author of this heartbreaking and haunting work. Highly recommended for anyone concerned about the fate of humanity.-Edward Cone, New York Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

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