Boris Kukin-Mutchabinovich Petrenkov is a Soviet apparatchik and engineer who constantly dwells on his memory of the heyday of the Soviet Union, when he championed the construction of the BAM (Baikal-Amur-Mainline) railway line from the northern shores of Lake Baikal to the pacific coast. He travels in a train from his winter retreat in Southern Yakutia (Sakha) and meets a Yukaghir friend who engages him in a discourse that marks the beginning of Boris’ implantation into the world of his dream. The story moves to the return of Andrei Yeremenko from Israel and attains its epic in the world of the Union Tavern, where the participants epitomize the dream of a generation that felt betrayed by the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Union Moujik ends with Boris coming to terms with post-Soviet reality, where the only cherished product is hope.
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Boris Petrenkov, a former Soviet apparatchik and engineer, embarks on atrain ride in Siberia that stirs his memory of the heyday of the SovietUnion when he championed the construction of the BAM(Baikal-Amur-Mainline) railway line from the northern shores of LakeBaikal to the pacific coast.
As he grapples with the new post-Soviet reality following the collapse of the Soviet Union, only the embrace of the original ideals of humanity, social solidarity and altruism soothes his grief and gives him the lucidity and strength to save the lives of mixed-race Cossack brothers from the hands of Russian skinheads, and then engage his Siberian friends in a journey that gradually opens the door to the world of his dream. When his buddy Andrei Yeremenko abandons Aliyah, and returns from Israel, Boris takes him to the Union Tavern and to the epic achievement of their world.
The land Boris cherishes epitomizes the dream of a generation that feels betrayed by the collapse of the Soviet Union, even as it shakes off the legacy of chaos that abounds in the former Soviet Republics. The territory is a showcase for the rest of the world, yet Boris knows that hope is the only thing they can count on in the post-soviet space.
The reality of post-Soviet Russia deepens Boris's rancor until his dying Australian cousin sets aside ideological differences and contributes to his project to realize a new generation of muzhiks.
Excerpt.© Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Southern Yakutia (Sakha)
In that part of Siberia known as the Russian Far East, flows the River Aldan. It is comparatively dwarfed by the Yenisei and Lena rivers, and it has been used by man far less than the giant River Amur to the south. Even so, the river was a lifeline for the idealistic young men and women who braved the ruggedness of the Russian Far East to build the railway lines and settler communities dotting that part of the Siberian wilderness.
They say the Aldan River has a forceful character in its youthful stage and that it cuts an impressive mark on the topography as it bubbles and hisses northwards down the mountains and hills, and as it flows through the marshy plains of Yakutia before joining the River Lena that snakes its way into the Arctic Ocean.
Boris Kukinovich Petrenkov finds River Aldan's unique character enthralling. His log house, which is on the left bank of the river, less than a hundred miles from its source, is a beautiful three-bedroom structure perched on a knoll. He enjoys sitting by his window in winter and basking in the sunshine, with the view of the snow-capped mountains a few miles away. He often does so in anticipation of spotting the polar fox, the almost extinct Amur tiger, the agile snow leopard, herds of northern reindeer and even the swift-footed Kulan donkey.
In summer, the valleys blossom with the luxuriant flowers, precious trees and some of the peculiar grasses of the Taiga. This is the season Boris loves the most in Southern Yakutia. He keeps an eye out for the squirrel, mink and other fur-bearing animals that scurry around under the soothing sunlight; and he often engages in bird-watching, which is a hobby he is particularly fond of. He even takes fanciful rides on a Kulan donkey or a horse every now and then, a refreshing experience per se. Sometimes, he hikes about in the mountains or accompanies herdsmen to remote areas as they tend their herds of reindeer in search of pasture. However, it is his passion for fishing that supersedes all the others. Hardly a week goes by without Boris testing his lines or nets in the River Aldan or the numerous lakes, small rivers, and streams that dot the area.
Notwithstanding the above, Boris Petrenkov's deepest love is for the people of Southern Yakutia. He visits the cottages of his peasant friends every so often for chats and other discourses, an exercise that has helped him over the years to master the tongues of the different ethnicities of the region, much to the amazement of many and the bewilderment of a few.
If his detractors regard Siberia and the Russian Far East as foreboding places to live in, Boris does not share their view. Siberia--the landmass east of the Ural Mountains that constitutes the northern half of Asia--is his enchanted kingdom.
It would be wrong to say that Boris is nothing more than a lover of nature and people. After all, he graduated from the Kazan University in 1955 with distinction as a civil engineer, and then went on to leave his mark across the Soviet Union with remarkable engineering feats that that still stand today. Yet, even his authentic devotion to the communist cause and his outstanding sacrifices in the Second World War did not land him with a distinguished political career. Boris just happens to be a selfless public figure whose profound love is for the practical works of life. In short, he is a rare blazing soul who prefers spending his time uplifting the common people to engaging in political intrigues or regaling himself in obscure offices and dachas.
At six-foot-two tall, Boris appears burly with a cupidinous face, broad nose, upright frame, unclassified complexion and wavy black hair that he rarely crops. His features give him a unique appearance, making it more difficult for anyone to determine whether he is Slavic, Turkic, Lithuanian, Turanian or any of the ethnicities of the Caucasus. In fact, he is a classic product of generations of inter-racial and inter-ethnic mixing by some of the diverse peoples of the former Soviet Union.
Boris's solemn disposition, boisterous nature, and raucous voice make it easy for a casual observer to view him as an autocrat instead of the democrat that he truly is. However, most of those who misjudged him the first time turned around and came up with different stories to tell after their second encounter with him or after engaging him again in a deeper manner. The portrayal of Boris as a classic epitome of humanity is shared by a good number of people who got close to his soul.
Boris is also a fascinating character in the sense that he possesses the Ukrainian gaiety, the Byelorussian modesty, the Cossack daring spirit, the versatility and horse riding skills of a Mongol, the augmentative spirit of a Georgian, the neatness of an Estonian, the steadfastness of a Russian, the good sense of humor of an Armenian, the easy-going nature of a Kazakh and the respect for the elderly like an Uzbek. The fact that he is an ardent believer of Soviet harmony partly explains why he feels more relaxed in a multi-ethnic group than in the company of Eastern Slavs, even though the nationality on his passport identifies him as a Russian.
While acknowledging his humaneness, some of Boris Petrenkov's friends readily admit his weaknesses too, pointing out that his unbiased and self-sacrificing nature made it difficult for him to tolerate the feeble-minded nationalists who caused the irrational upsurge of nationalism in the former Soviet republics he had adored so fiercely.
During his active days building socialism in the Soviet Union, Boris never declined assignments to work in the very distant and remote regions of the country. It should be noted that despite his unwavering commitment to making life better for the people, he was not blind to the fact that some party apparatchiks abhorred his dedication and easygoing nature. A good number of these detractors even faulted him for living below their standards and positions, and for spending too more time with the muzhiks than with the proletariat and the ruling class. These pathetic fellows just failed to understand that poor Boris never wanted to be alienated from his muzhik friends because he thought the life of the favored contradicted his views on the rightful implementation of the ideas of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, and Vladimir Lenin.
The sun was high in the sky and the birds were singing in the air that warm Siberian morning when Boris stepped out of the taxi at the Berkakit railway station and looked around him, only to be gripped by an upsurge of pride at the neatness of the place. Then a smile appeared on his face as if he just remembered something pleasant.
The bus that pulled up in front of him shortly after and dispatched of its passengers appeared to be in good shape too, and the two police officers chatting and laughing by their car also reflected the relaxed feeling around. Crime did not exist in their part of Russia, or so, he thought. The people did not look like they felt threatened by the police or by criminals the way Russian citizens behaved in faraway Moscow and Saint Petersburg.
One of the passengers who got off the bus was a babushka in her sixties. She looked confident in her ways as she grabbed her seven-year-old grandson's hand the moment the boy tried to step in front of her.
"Comrade Boris Kukinovich!" she called out the second she spotted Boris. Then she stopped and regarded him with a warm expression on her face.
"Zdravstvuitye, Maria Federovna! It is you in person! A great pleasure seeing you again," Boris beamed, and then shook her hand before ruffling the boy's hair.
It took Boris and Maria a little over ten minutes to exchange pleasantries, share opinions, and update each other on their lives and mutual friends. They even spared a few laughs with a twinge of rue in their voices.
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