Released by Cheshmeh in Tehran, the novella has been rendered by Rafi Rafiei, whose Persian translation of Brazilian author Paulo Coelho’s “The Archer” came out in May.
The novella first was published in the Soviet literary magazine Novyi Mir (New World) in 1963. It is one of the few works of prose written by the author that are set during World War II, and it is said to have been based upon real-life events witnessed by the author.
The action of the novella takes place only over three or four hours on a night in late October 1941, and is written mostly from the viewpoint (though not from inside the mind) of a somewhat short-sighted character called Lieutenant Vasili Zotov, who is the second in command of the station.
The brief incident described involves a soldier and actor, Tveritinov, who has lost contact with his military unit and has spent several days trying to catch up, riding on board freight cars without a ticket or identification papers.
Zotov is impressed by the actor’s warm personality and is moved when shown photographs of the actor’s family. But when Tveritinov asks what was the previous name of Stalingrad, Zotov suspects that he is a spy and has him arrested.
Weeks later, Zotov twice asks about the actor only to be told that he “has been taken care of” and “we never make mistakes” – leaving the reader to guess Tveritinov’s fate.
Solzhenitsyn uses Zotov's restricted mind and overly suspicious thinking as a symbol of Soviet ideology and the workings of the Stalinist police state, but among those of Solzhenitsyn’s characters that are overtly loyal to Joseph Stalin, Zotov is one of the more sympathetically written about, and who has qualities that the author admires: he is hardworking, eager to do his best and a man of the people. Still, he becomes a tool of the paranoia of Stalinism.