First of September, Moscow
S. Fischer, Frankfurt
Pistorius & Olsanska, Czech Republic
New Vessel Press, New York
Keller editore, Italy
Natur & Kultur, Sweden
Ajakirjade Kirjastus, Estonia
Creative Angel Publishing, Georgia
Ajakirjade Kirjastus, Estonia
LIST Ltd., Bulgaria
Begemot, North Macedonia
“With his Gulag novel that was published in Russia in 2011, Sergei Lebedev opens up new territory in literature. For this work does not revolve primarily around perpetrators and victims, crime and punishment. Lebedev’s narrator, a child of perestroika, did not experience the horrors of the Gulag. But he suffers under the shadow that the silence of the perpetrators throws on the descendants. … Lebedev’s prose lives from the precise pictures and the author’s colossal gift of observation. The language is the greatest strength of this novel, which unfolds slowly and uses almost no dialogue.” Spiegel Online, 06.05.2013
“Unlike the great chroniclers of the Gulag, Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Varlam Shalamov, in his novel Lebedev does not so much reconstruct the martyrdom of the victims as the psychodrama of a perpetrator. This is new in contemporary Russian literature, as is the interest in this theme for an author of his generation… At the end, the narrator follows the tracks of deported prisoners into the wastes of the north, and on an island he stumbles across a hole in the ground full of undecomposed corpses. There are symbolically charged cathartic pictures of horror, and the beauty of the language is almost impossible to bear. The novel luxuriates in poetic language in general… Overcoming the consequences of the disastrous industrial and social Utopias of Stalinism is, according to the young author, a task on the scale of all humanity, but modern-day Russia still refuses to face it. On the contrary: the enormous country only continues to exist geographically, but not historically. The state-sanctioned amnesia leads to a situation when people do not know where they come from, and those who do not know their past are blind for the future.” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 19.04.2013
“‘The Sky on their Shoulders’ is a monomaniacal meditation on memory and forgetting, presence and emptiness, Europe and its other. Added to this, on the basis of the author’s own biographical materials there is the first person narrative of a nameless Alter Ego about the discovery of horror, and the attempt to clarify the connections on a journey to the Arctic Circle. To fathom the abyss of humanity, Lebedev deploys depth psychology and the philosophy of history, apocalypse and mythology (particularly the Gilgamesh epic). His language is of stupendous poetic richness, and his gift of description has overwhelming atmospheric power. … It is a landscape of apocalyptic disappearing and forgetting, which Lebedev portrays in a phantasmagorical report, and the reader can hardly resist its demonic power and morbidity. … While Solzhenitsyn and Shalamov now have the definitive ineffectiveness of classic writers, Lebedev’s grandiose novel has the potency to become a mirror and wake-up call to a Russia that is blind to history.” Neue Züricher Zeitung, 16.07.2013
Sergei Lebedev’s novel impresses by its mastery, its stylistic perfection and its attention to details. We believe that we know about the crimes of Stalin’s regime, we have read Solzhenitsyn and Shalamov, but this book is not just about that. It is about how great the extent of forgetting is, so that the memory of the death of thousands of people seems to have disappeared into the air.
“At present, this book is the only one that takes on the very difficult task of a historical confession, which Russian society does not want to have anything to do with. Sergei Lebedev asks his torturous questions in a county where, unlike for the Nazi criminals, no single head of a camp, no commander of a firing squad has had to answer before a court for destroying thousands of lives. No one can say for sure that they do not have the blood of executioners running in their veins – even if it does not come from their ancestors, it may perhaps come from a blood transfusion.” (Olga Lebedushkina).