"Pavel & I" is a meticulously crafted novel, intelligent and engaging. Vyleta's careful research and attention to the details of time and place make the city of Berlin in the winter of 1946 as integral to the story as Pavel himself. There are brilliant snatches of humor in the midst of the blood and cold and hunger of the grim post-war winter, and this is where Vyleta's truly original voice shines through. The wonderful (and horrible) cast reads like a circus playbill: an enormous British Colonel, a Russian midget, an opportunistic prostitute, a Dickensian street urchin, a spy with an eyepatch, and a pet monkey from hell... all refreshingly absurd, yet artfully developed and appropriately believable in context.
And then there is Pavel, who we feel we get to know quite intimately - yet he remains an enigma. The author notes in his acknowledgments that the novel is "interested in the question of how many of our personal needs and desires we inject into narrations of the past." By the end of the novel we are reminded that there are in fact two title characters - Pavel and "I" - and that the complex lenses through which "I" perceives Pavel are as fascinating and engaging as Pavel's story itself.
"Pavel & I" is one of the best-written contemporary novels I have read in a long time, and it continues to stimulate new thoughts and conversations. Here's hoping we see more from Dan Vyleta, and soon.