This remarkable novel, hidden from the English-speaking world for more than 50 years, begins with the Red Army invasion of Belarus in 1939. Ivan Kulik has just become headmaster of School Number 7 in Hlaby, a rural village in the Pinsk Marshes. Through his eyes we witness the tragedy of Stalinist domination, where people are randomly deported to labor camps or tortured in Zovty Kazarny prison in the center of Pinsk.
Ivan struggles to make sense of this new world, learning the politics of survival in the emerging Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic and trying to sort out his personal life. His passion for Marusia, a green-eyed, unpredictable young woman, is a theme throughout the book.
Although Wave of Terror is based on Theodore Odrach’s first-hand knowledge of events, it is a literary achievement of the highest order, not a mere exposé of Soviet oppression. Alberto Manguel, editor of the Penguin Book of Christmas Stories, which includes a short story by Odrach, says he “has almost a journalistic eye for the story he wants to tell. I felt he was in the same league as Alexander Solzhenitsyn . . .”
The character descriptions call up faces as vivid as those in a movie by Fellini or Tarkovsky: there is, for example, the big woman with great physical appetites who leaves her work as a street vendor of pickled herring to take a teaching position offered by the new regime, and there is the District Committee official who becomes obsessed with her. Even villains like Sobakin, the N.K.V.D. officer, somehow come through as fully realized human beings rather than caricatures.
“Odrach’s individual gift,” says T. F. Rigelhof in his introduction, “the thing that sets him apart from his contemporaries (and draws him closer to George Orwell and D.H. Lawrence than anyone other than Chekhov) is the range of his sympathies and, specifically, his unromantic, anti-sentimental approach to the sensual lives of girls and women. His debt to Chekhov is obvious in his ability to capture the internal drama of his characters with psychological concision.”