1:29:12 Confessions of a Fallen Standard-Bearer, a book review

To many of us in the West, it might seem odd public opinion in today's Russia reveals a persistent and growing nostalgia for, yes, the days of Communist rule.

The nostalgia is ambivalent. Modern Russians don't yearn for censorship, Stalinist purges, or command economy shortages. No, the nostalgia is for something more ineffable: a certain social connectedness everyone in the street felt, enabling them to cooperate and survive.

The particular form this Russian nostalgia takes is the subject of Andrei Makine's Confessions of a Fallen Standard-Bearer. A novel of memory and meditation, the story is of a small community lost to history. Narrated by an older Alyosha (now an emigre writer in America), he and his best friend Arkady grew up bugling and drumming for the Young Pioneers--the Communist organization for youths--while marching red-scarved under Soviet banners.

[book cover]But Confessions of a Fallen Standard-Bearer is less about belief in the banners under which they marched and more about how and why they lived as they did: what the "connection" at the center of their communal lives was. So, as such, an evocation of the community in which the two youths became men. Their fathers, their mothers, their extended family--all contributed to the richness of their young lives.

Both youths know the personal sacrifice each father made during the Great War. Alyosha's father, Pyotr, came home without legs and practices a stationary trade, paradoxically, that of shoe cobbler. Yakov's injury is more the psychological toll of survivor's guilt. Although each father's war injury is consequential and permanent, it doesn't subtract one whit from the community they inspire and foster for Alyosha and Arkady.

It is for such fond memories Alyosha speaks. In evocative and impressionistic language, author Makine summons a delicious nostalgia he, as a Communist youth growing up in the former Soviet Union, remembers well.

In sum, Confessions of a Fallen Standard-Bearer shows an emotional yearning for what was lost after Marxist-Leninism was consigned to history's dustbin. Yes, we Westerners might have cheered Boris Yeltsin and his "economic shock therapy." But the followup of crony and gangster capitalism, the wholesale plundering of State-owned enterprises in the name of comrades-turned-plutocrats only leaves the Russian Everyman wondering, We gave up what for this? Read Makine's meditative novel about this potent and peculiar Russian nostalgia for a social connection now lost.

Confessions of a Fallen Standard Bearer by Andrei Makine, translated from the French by Geoffrey Strachan, Arcade Publishing, New York, 2000, 130 pp., ISBN: 978-1559-705295.


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The Cat at Light's End

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