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Book review - The Archipelago of Another Life

Early on in Andre├»Makine’s latest novel, we recognise that we are going to be led into the heart of darkness by his use of a dual narrator and a framing device, reminiscent of Joseph Conrad’s classic. Set in the far eastern borders of the Soviet Union, an orphan boy follows a stranger into the forest. He is quickly unmasked and befriended by the man he has pursued. The stranger makes him tea and begins his tale.
In 1952, Pavel Gartsev is sent on military service to a training camp in the eastern taiga, designed to test the men’s resistance in case of nuclear attack. It’s the early period of the Cold War and paranoia is at an all-time high. Gartsev is bullied by his commanders and forced to endure various acts of cruelty. Ordered to capture an escapee from a nearby labour camp, he accompanies a motley crew deep into the Siberian taiga. The army commander is swiftly overruled by two zealous, trigger-happy representatives of Stalin’s secret police. The other recruit, Sergeant Vassin, hop…