IN SOVIET ARCADIA
In general, in the novel, youth is riding for a fall; something in the very form of the novel itself warns us obscurely that things will not turn out—indeed, it is in the very nature of things that they can never turn out. So it is refreshing to come upon Red Plenty, in which youth and its hopes and excitements—forever enthusiastic even in its minor disappointments—are preserved as in a time capsule; as if under a spell, or enclosed within a fairy-tale, as the author, Francis Spufford, tells us. And this, in a historical novel—one of those new so-called postmodern historical novels that are springing up all around us—in which we all know very pertinently that it never did turn out in the first place. This youth, in which the world was new, and very bliss it was, is the youth of the Soviet Union; but not the 1920s, the world of revolutionary hopes, but rather the youth of Khrushchev’s 60s, a whole new generation of Soviets who have put Stalin and the War, deprivation and the secret police, behind them. A generation, indeed, who have never known any of those things, whose emblem is Sputnik and education, and whose hope is ‘red plenty’, in a distinctly different sense from the consumerism of the American post-war. Spufford has done well, first to stock and bury his time capsule, and then to dig it up and open it for us. He has his own lessons to draw from its contents, but there may also be others he has not thought of.
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