The Matiushin Case
From the winner of the Solzhenitsyn Prize 2012 and the Russian Booker Prize 2002
The Matiushin Case is one of the darkest and most powerful works of fiction to appear in Russian in the last twenty years. Deriving, like Captain of the Steppe, from the author’s own traumatic experience as a conscript in the last years of the Soviet Union, it follows the experience of Matiushin, a young, sensitive, disoriented man, damaged first by violence in his family then by the brutality of army life in Central Asia.
Indebted to the different traditions of ‘labour camp prose’ pioneered by Solzhenitsyn and Shalamov, the novel is much more than an expose of societal ills, shocking enough though these are. Its literary achievement lies elsewhere: in the way that the horrific realities of conscript life are steeped in the unique mood of dreaminess and timelessness created by the setting and by Pavlov’s prose-style and in the unique type of tension that this mood creates. Matiushin’s ‘crime and punishment’ emerge from this tension with compelling inevitability; the victim turns killer. The hell that Oleg Pavlov describes is physical and societal, but above all psychological, and, as such, no less universal than that described by Dante or Dostoevsky.