Troy Patterson
February 14, 2003 at 05:00 AM EST

The Commissariat of Enlightenment

type
Book
Current Status
In Season
author
Ken Kalfus
publisher
Ecco Press
genre
Fiction
We gave it a B

It’s 1910 in Russia, Leo Tolstoy is dying in the remote town of Astapovo, and the modern media apparatus is waiting to be born. In chronicling the novelist’s death, young cinematographer Nikolai Gribshin discovers elation in both the tricks of his trade and his presence at the center of history. (His creator, an acclaimed short-story writer, also gets carried away by the sweep of the events, sometimes to jarring effect. One comrade to another on young Stalin: ”He’s the most reckless, untrustworthy, impudent revolutionist that there ever was!”) While Nikolai seems to evolve into one Comrade Astapov, a bureaucrat charged with ”conquering the Russian imagination,” his cool appraisals of propagandistic intrigue remain dry and precise.

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