A sweeping transcontinental novel of secrets and lies buried within a single family
Thirty-two-year-old Gabriel Glover arrives in St. Petersburg to find his mother dead in her apartment. Reeling from grief, Gabriel and his twin sister, Isabella, arrange the funeral without contacting their father, Nicholas, a brilliant and manipulative libertine. Unknown to the twins, their mother had long ago abandoned a son, Arkady, a pitiless Russian predator now determined to claim his birthright. Aided by an ex-seminarian whose heroin addiction is destroying him, Arkady sets out to find the siblings and uncover the dark secret hidden from them their entire lives.
Winner of the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize and long-listed for the Man Booker Prize, Pravda is a darkly funny, compulsively readable, and hauntingly beautiful chronicle of discovery and loss, love and loyalty, and the destructive legacy of deceit.Docx has a gift for assessing the exact shape and weight of other peoples inner selves, the architecture of their spirit,” and although the book teems with charactersthe cast reaches nearly Dickensian proportionseven the most ancillary flare into being, vital and insistent.
The New Yorker
A novel so vivid it glows in the dark -- like truth.
The Washington Post
Longlisted for the 2007 Man Booker Prize, and with good reason: well written, vigorously plotted and perceptive about human nature. Kirkus Reviews, Starred
Caustic, hip, and highly recommended. Library Journal
Docx's ability to capture the feel of St. Petersburg, London, New York and Paris adds depth to this portrait of a family in turmoil. Drug addiction, sex, the emptiness of superficial relationships, poverty and music round out the ambitious narrative.
As the mystery of Maria's life and death is revealed, the haunting story hurtles toward a startling conclusion.
Docx has plumbed the depths of understanding and forgiveness with this fascinating book.
Tampa TribunePart I OCTOBER The truth was obscure, too profound and too pure, to live it you have to explode.
Bob Dylan, Where Are You Tonight?
(Journey Through Dark Heat)”
LOVE AND CHAOS 1 Gabriel Glover
He was relieved to be again among the Russians. Nothing to do with his head, or even his heart, but in his soul: some kind of internal alignment or tessellation. He looked up at the clock on the wall above the brown lift doors. Hed lost two hours with the delays. But the London panic had given way to cool urgency, a calculating haste. There would be the visa and passport queues. There would be the usual wrangle with the taxi driverunless he agreed up front to pay the tourist price. And then there would be traffic on Moskovsky . . . An hour and a quarter and he should be there.
The doors opened. The other Europeans and the Americans hesitated. He pushed his way inside with the Russians and a Finnish businessman with a tatty attaché. Everyone was already smoking. He squashed up and breathed it in: the flavor of the tobaccomore aromatic, smokier. An old woman swathed in a heavy black shawl with her hair tied up in a scalp-tightening white bun began shouldering her myriad straps, grasping numberless bags, grimly determined to be the first out.
But he was quicker. He walked swiftly across the vast immigration hallthe high two-tone walls, light Soviet tan at the base and dark Soviet mahogany at the top. There were only two queues for nonresidents. He had hoped for three or four. The first was shorter but comprised disorderly families and excited tourists; the second was mainly businessmen, money people. Follow the money. Money, after all, had won.
He put down his bag. These last few miles always seemed such an incremental agony, especially when the previous thousand he had scorched across the curve of the Earth. And now the candor that he had been evading for the past thirty-six hours finally ambushed him: okay, yes, it was true, this call had been different. Much worse. Something was really wrong. Something serious. Otherwise why would he have gone straight to the airport this morning and taken the first flight via Hel-bloody-sinki?
The slab-faced man in the booth looked up from the pages of the passport and met his eyes through the bulletproof glass.
Your name?” Gabriel Glover.” How old are you?” Thirty-two.” There was a long scrutinizing pause, as if the official were formulating a difficult third question, something beginning with why.” Gabriel straightened up, consciously pulling his shoulders back, as both Lina and Connie reminded him to doone thing at least they had in commonand stood with proper posture at his full fiveeleven. He was dressed half scruffily, in cheap jeans and scuffed boots, and half elegantly, in a dark tailored pure wool suit jacket and fine white shirtas though he had not been able to make up his mind about who he really was or which side he was on when he set out. He had the figure of someone thin through restlessness, through exercise of the mind rather than of the body; he had liquid dark eyes and his hair was near-black and kicked and kinked at the ends, not so much a style as a lack of one, stylishly passing itself off. Immigration officials usually had him down as Mediterranean before they opened up his passport: Her Britannic Majesty requests and requires . . .
The officials silence was becoming a test of stamina. He felt the urge to say somethinganythingwhatever confession was most required. But at last the Russian gave a grotesque smile followed by a parody of that long-suffering American imperative: Enjoy.” Thank you.” And his passport was returned to him slowly beneath the glass, as if it documented nothing but the transit excuses of a notorious pimp turned pederast turned priest turned politician. (Truly these people were the masters of contempt.) Now he had to wait for his luggage. They had forced him to check it in: too heavy.
For five minutes he fidgeted by the jaws of the empty carousel like an actor misguidedly aping madness. Then he could stand it no longer. He struck yet another deal with himselfno smoking in London, but okay, fine abroadand set off to buy some cigarettes from the kiosk with the rubles he had left over from the last trip. When was that? Six weeks ago? No, less . . . Four weeks ago. This had to stop.
There was no relief at firstjust acridity and watering eyesbut by midway through the second he was tempered, smoking greedily and watching the Russians. If ever there was a nation that understood waiting . . . And it occurred to him all over again why she had wanted to come back: because there was something that appealed to her particular vvanity here, something fierce and irreducible, some semi-nihilistic condition of character.
He remembered her speaking about just this quality when he was a child. She too must have been quite young then, at one of the London parties, perhapshe and Isabella, his twin sister, had been allowed to stay up, listening carefully for their cues in the adult conversation. She had been talking to Grandpa Max: The difference between the Russian character and the Western is that we Russians have learned to live our days in the full knowledge that whatever transpires in the interim, the sun will eventually expand and humanity will be incinerated. Its a way of life precisely opposite to the American Dream. Call it Russian fatalism if you like. But it gives us a sense of perspective, a sense of humor, and perhaps a certain dignity.” He exhaled smoke through his nose. Her declarations and her pronunciationswas ever a person so convinced of the absolute truth of her latest opinion? She must have been unbearable when she was younger. Her voice was in his head too much these days, especially since the calls had started in earnest; indeed, there were moments when he found himself unable to distinguish his thoughts from hers. His luggage.
Youre just like your father.” Im not listening to this. Thats not even true. Ive got to go to bed now.” You are still with Lina?” (Linas voice through the open bedroom door: Gabriel? Are you off the phone? Can you bring me some water? And put the lettuce back in the fridge.”) Since we spoke yesterday?” It was Sunday night. He tried to keep the anger out of his voice. Am I still with Lina since this time yesterday? Yeah. Since yesterday, Im still with Lina. The same as the last four years. Nothing has changed. Listen, I am” And Connie?” The line clicked irregularly, all the way across Europe.
Nothing has changed in the last twenty-four hours.” He almost hissed the words. That was unusually devious and unnecessary, even by her standards. But you know I cant speak . . .” You can always speak to me.” He had started whispering. Lina is awake. Its . . . its midnight. I have to go to bed.” Going sideways, going sideways, going sideways. Cant go forward. Cant go back. So you go sideways.” Ill call tomorrow from work.” Like your father.” No. Stop. Thats it. Ill call you tom” Dont go.” Her voice contained a new note of . . . of what? Desperation?
I promise I will call you tomorrow.” Gabriel.” He felt her reaching in for his heart. And he felt his heart uncoil. Okay. But I do have to go soon. Andand you should be in bed too. Its what? Christ, its past three with you. Its the middle of the night.” Its difficult for you. I know.” What is? Youre not sounding great. Youre rasping. Seriously, is everything okay?” To inhabit yourself fully. Very few people do this anymore. But you and I, we trycorrect? We try to hold the line . . . Even though this will cost us almost everything we havethis great indignity, this great antagonism, this great protest.” She coughed. Which is itself pointless.” He was unnerved now. More riddles. His attention wholly focused.
Butlisten to me.” She spoke more steadily. You have to be fierce in the face of all the cowardice you see around you. And you have to say, No. For me, no. I will not. I will not lie down and I will not give up. I will not do or be or become anything that you wish me to. However you disguise it, however you describe itpolitics, religion, economicsI will continue to stand here and tell you that what you believe in is a lie and what you have become is a falsehood.” Whywhyare you talking to me like this?” Another cough and suddenly she became urgent. Will you come tomorrow?” To Petersburg?” Yes.” I cant. Im at work tomorrow.” Your work is a joke. Come tomorrow.” I cant just . . . Why are you laughing? Jesusyoure coughing.” He continued to speak, but he knew that she could not hear. Oh God . . . Its getting worse.” For nearly a minute he stood there listening to her hacking. But it was unendurable. So he started up again, shouting into the phone, regardless of waking Lina. Can you hear me? Are you there? Hold the phone up.” A few seconds of quiet, her breathing like wind through rusted barbed wire. Oh God . . . Youre crying.” And then this: Do you love me, Gabriel?” She had never asked him such a thing. Not once.
Yes. Of course. You know I do.” Say it in Russian.” Ya tyebya lyublyu.” Come tomorrow. Promise me.” Youve got to move back to London. And you dont have to live in the old house.” He would have set out that instant if he could have made it there any faster by doing so.
Petersburg is my home. You must be here tomorrow. I will give you the money. I want to see you. I will talk. There are so many things I have to tell you.” I need a visa.” Come the day after, then. Get an express visa. Ill pay.” Are you crying?” Promise me.” Okay. Okay. I promise.” It was one thirty-five U.K. time when he finally hung up. Three and a half hours later, he was standing at the front of the already lengthening queue outside the Russian embassy on Kensington Palace Gardens, watching a grout-gray dawn seep slowly through the cracks in the east.
The driver was crazier than he had dared hope. He clasped the handrail above the passenger door, the muscles tensing in his upper arm as the taxi veered left onto Moskovsky. Wide and straight, the road into town was as Stalin-soaked in the monochrome of tyranny as the center of the city was bright and colorful with the light of eighteenthcentury autocracy.
Democracy is difficult for us, Gabriel,” she often said. In Russia we are required to live within the pathologies of the strongest manwhatever he titles himself. That way we all know where we are and what we are doing. However bad it gets.” The cars were moving freelythe battered Czech wrecks and tattered Russian rust crates, the sleek German saloons and the tinted American SUVs, overtaking, undertaking, switching lanes in a fat salsa of metal and gasoline. Still no phone network; it didnt usually take this long. He shifted in the back seat, lit his fourth cigarette, and wound down the window as the cab slowed for the lights. A mortally decrepit bus bullied its way across the intersection, discharging plumes of what looked like . . . like coal dust. The pollution was worsening: particles seemed to hang heavy and brazen as nails in the lower air, a blunt parody of the fine mists that must have once come dancing up the Neva from the sea to greet great Peter himself as he rode out across the marshes to meet his enemies.
He would stay with the cab: twenty minutes and hed be there. No need to jump out and take the underground. Gorolov-Geroev Park was just ahead nowhe could see the scrub trees behind the tarnished railings, and there was the crooked-nosed old man with that same heavily lapeled sports jacket still selling books and magazines on the corner. Not really selling. More like minding them for someone or something never to come. Jesus, it was as if he had not been away. How many times was he going to have to do this?
He bent to look up. The sky was low and lowering. The plane had been in rainclouds for much of the descent. The wind must be carrying them inland from the west. He tried to listen to the music from the ill-tuned station on the car radio; it sounded like Kino. Something off Gruppa Krovi maybe he couldnt be surebeauty and despair bound in razor wire and thrown overboard together, whitelipped now beneath the ice, thrashing it out, life and death. His sister would have known the exact song, the exact version. A current of anger joined the stream of his thinking. Isabella hadnt been over for nearly a year. Longer, in facttwenty-one months: Christmasthe Mariinskythat vicious wind on the walk home, which froze the nose and iced the eyeballs, three atheists on their knees at Kazan Cathedral early the next morning.
The truth was that he wished he had managed to get hold of Isabella last night instead of leaving a message. The truth was that he was no longer sure of the truth. And he trusted his sister to apprehend things preciselyto seek out the quiddity of things and, once grasped, never let go, to insist, to assert, to confirm. Whereas for him . . . for him the truth seemed to be slipping away with each passing year, losing distinctiveness, losing clarity, losing weight. Duplicity, hypocrisy, and cant, the primary colors he once would have scorned, he now saw in softer shades. Perhaps this was the aging process: bit by bit truth grows faint until she vanishes completely, leaving you stranded on the path, required to choose a replacement guide from those few stragglers left among your partySurly Prejudice, Grinning Bewilderment, Purblind Grievance.
The thin beep of his phone locating a network. He sat up smartly, let the cigarette fall outside the window, and pressed the last dial button. A childs unmediated eagerness ran through him. With every second he expected her voice . . . But the ringing continued as if to spite him. And he began to picture the phone shrilling on the side table by the bay windowthe dusty light, the red-cushioned casement seats, the chess set forever ready for action. He imagined her climbing from the bath, or hurrying from the shower, or fumbling with keys and bags at the door.
ventually the line went dead.
He hit redial. They were coming toward Moskovskayahe could see the statue of Lenin a little farther on, the right arm aloftone of the few still standing. This time he listened intently to the exact pitch and interval of the ring tone. No answer. No bloody answer.
The line went dead again. She must be out. Maybe she was tired of waiting and hed get there to find one of her notes on the table: At café such and such with so and so, come and join”as if he should know the café or the friend. Or maybe she was just refusing to pick up the phone for reasons she would soon be telling him something dark and colossally unlikely involving organized crime, her time in the Secretariat. Redial. The fact was that he was utterly at a loss as to what she was really trying to communicate to him. The direct accusations, sly allusions, subject swerves, sudden changes of register that served (and were meant to serve) only to draw further attention to the preceding hints. Redial. Individual exchanges made sense, and yet when he got off the phone he could not discern what lay behind her pointed choice of subject, her denouncements, her fabrications. He gave up as the line went dead the fourth time. Why wasnt she answering the bloody phone? And suddenly all his anger passed away. And he knew that he would do this forever if necessary.
His mobile had heated his ear and he put it down on the seat away from him as the driver slowed for the traffic again. And here they were crawling beneath mighty Lenins arm. That failure,” she always said, is our failure, Gabriel, is the failure of all of us. Such dreams expired. More dreams than we can imagineall extinguished by that failure. Not just in the past but in the future too: and thats the real sadness, the real tragedy. We haveall of us, the whole worldwe have all lost our belief in our better selves. And the great told-you-so of capitalism will roll out across the earth until there is no hiding place. And every day that passes, Marx will be proved more emphatically right. And all the men and women waking in the winter to the slavery of their wages will know it in their heart.”
He stood for an anxious moment by the iron railings of the canal embankment, putting away his wallet and glancing up at the secondfloor balcony. The tall windows were closed. But the curtains were not drawn. The driver struggled with the lock of the buckled trunk, the gusting wind causing his jacket to billow. Rain was coming. Gabriel could smell the dampness in the air. He took his bag and hurried across the street.
He reached the gates that blocked his way to the courtyardlike most in the old part of town, the flats were accessed from the various staircases within. And only now he remembered the need to punch in the security code. What was the number? He couldnt recall. He pressed the buzzer and waited. Maybe she had been in the bath when he rang. Or maybe her phone wasnt working. He simply hadnt thought about this. Hed assumed she would be home. And if by some strange chance not, then he had all the keys to let himself in . . . but the security code? No. Hed forgotten all about the bloody security code.
He tried a few combinations at random. He jabbed at her buzzer repeatedly. Nothing happened. And there was no voice from the intercom. The first twist of rain came and he leaned against the gate to get beneath the shallow arch. Water began to drip onto his bag. Maybe he could try one of the other buzzers and explain . . . But even if they spoke Englishunlikely there was no way on earth theyd let him in; crime had seen to that. He pressed her buzzer again. He did not know what else to do.
Abruptly the full force of his panic returneda tightening in his throat, a clamping of his teeth at the back of his jaw, the sound of his own blood coursing in his ears. (The fearyes, that was what it was the fear in her voice on the telephone.) He looked around, face taut now, hoping for a car or another resident approaching. Someone to open the gate. Where was everybody? The whole of the city had vanished. This was insane. Over on the other side of the canal, two men were sprinting for shelter. They ducked down the stairs into the café opposite.
Yana. Of course. Yana would know the code. Yanas mother was in and out all the timecleaning, officially, though mainly consuming expensive tea and gossiping. Oh please Christ Yanas working today. He picked up his bag and dashed across the bridge. The Kokushkin Bridge on which poor Rodya stared into the murky water to contemplate his crime Gabriel, can you imagine it? He was across. He dived down the café stairs, slipped on the wet stone and nearly fell, reached out for the door to stop himself, and somehow bloodied his knuckle as he crashed inside. But he cared nothing for the eyes that were on him as he walked over to the bar cursing under his breath.
Is Yana here? Do you speak English?” Yes, I do.” The girl at the bar had a staff T-shirt: CCCP Café: The Party People.” Is Yana here? Yana.” Yes. She is. What” Can you get her?” He had not seen this girl before; he tried to ameliorate his manner, but to little effect. Sorry. Im sorry. Can you tell her Gabriel is here? Its about Mariashell know.” Okay.” The girl had registered his urgency and locked the till as quickly as she could. Please. Wait here.” Yes. Ill wait.” He glanced at the walls, which were pasted with lacquered old editions of Pravda: Khrushchev kissing a dead astronauts son, Andropov, Old Joe himselfalways a shock to see that, yes, he was a person of flesh and blood and conversationleaning forward to say something to the woman seated beside his driver as the state car processed down Nevsky Prospekt. How many times had he and Isabella tried to read these walls and recreate in their minds what it must have been Gabe. Hi. Hello. How are you? I did not know you were coming back. Katja says you are a man who lost it.” Sorry. Yana, Im justI cant get in.” He raised his thumb to indicate behind himself. Whats the combination? The security gate. Do you know it?” Yes, of course.” She told him the number, becoming conscious of the alarm in his eyes. Is everything okay? How long you here? I didnt know you were coming back. Its lucky you came today, thoughI am going to Kiev tomorrow. I have to” Its a flying visit.” He interrupted her. I just got in. But Ill be back later. Promise.” He was already turning for the door. Well go out. Definitely. You can tell me about what is really happeningthe news isnt clear.” The rain had soused the cobbles but this time he crossed the bridge at a flat sprint, all the while keeping his eyes on the window above the balcony. Nobody paid him any attentionthe random autumn flurries of wet weather that came squalling in off the Gulf of Finland often caused old and young alike to scurry and dash. A woman holding a magazine above her head left the shelter of the hairdressers canopy and scuttled to her car door.
He was back at the security gate. He pressed in the numbers. The metal doors began to swing open jerkily: a moment to marvel at how the simple fact of knowing the right combination was all the difference and then he was through, into the courtyard.
The rain was slicking his hair onto his forehead and causing him to blink. The cars within looked more numerous than the last time. He was unashamedly thinking with her voice now: There you go capitalisms pubescent little triumphs on every hand, see how they vaunt it. Water was gushing down the side of the building where the guttering was broken. His mind would not focus. But his heart was pestling itself mad against the mortar of the present, suffering now from some inarticulate dreada terrifying feeling that came at him as he reached the staircase in the corner of the quadrangle, grinding his very quick to powder.
The stench of cat urine assailed him, slowed him, as he hit the stairs. She was a little demented, perhaps. Admit it. Thats why he couldnt get at what she meant, what she was really saying to him. She contradicted herself twelve times a day, twelve times an hour, and who can believe someone who . . . Distraction, though, distraction, he breathed: back to now, back. Up we go. Up we go. Why wasnt he running anymore? Maybe she was refusing to answer the entryphone on purpose. And the telephone. In two minutes she would be taking her perverse Petersburg pleasure in telling him how the criminal gangs were now calling door to door in the afternoons in the hope of being admitted without the need for time-consuming breaking-and- entering procedures. Its not as bad as Moscow, but its very dangerous sometimes here, Gabriel. And there was another murder just over in Sennaya . . .
He turned to take the third flight. The seconds were stalling. He noticed details he had never noticed before. The filth and the smell, the colors, the lack of colors, the chipped and broken sad stone stairs, the million cigarette butts underfoot, the unconcealed pipes all caked thick with dust and grime forever wheezing and choking up and down and back and across the stairwell, the metal-slabbed apartment doors riveted with legions of bolts and locks and tarnished somehowdespite the steelby nameless cats or poisonous leaks or dogs or rats . . . Her thick exterior padlock was undone.
So she must be in.
She must be inbecause there was no possibility that shed leave that padlock undone if she had gone out. She must be in. But he turned his key and entered the apartment in silence because he could not bring himself to call her name.
The light was dim. The wooden floor smelled of polish. He stepped onto the narrow carpet that ran down the center of the hall. And now he stopped moving altogether. The familiar pictureshis father in Paris in 1968, Isabella in New York, the Highgate house, his father on the telephone with a cigarette, Nicholas II and his family, he and his sister as babies in a pram, some famous clown white-faced in Red Square, the map of Europe stained with the brown ring mark of a wineglass over the Balkans, the icons, especially the bloody icons . . . These familiar pictures seemed suddenly remote, alien, unconnected with him, as though he had wandered into the flat of a vanished stranger whose life he must untangle. Someone dropped something in the apartment above. He let his bag fall and ran, left, toward her bedroom. The door was open. The heavy curtains drawn. Her books piled untidily on the floor by her fallen lamp. Flowers thirsty in the vase. Her favorite shawl spread across the floor by the chest. A full mug of black tea by the bed. Pills. The upright piano. The bed itself empty. He ran back down the corridor, pushing doors as he wentbathroom, kitchen, study . . . But he slowed on the threshold of the last, the drawing room, as she called ithigh ceilings, grand, with my tall windows for the White Nights, Gabriel, for the cool air in the summer, for the best view in all of Petersburg, where our history is made.
His mother was lying on the floor by the desk. He was on his knees and by her side in an instant. Her eyes were open but shrouded somehow in a shimmering film of reflected light. And when he called her name out loud at last and raised her up, her body was cold and slight. And she seemed to have shrunk, to be falling downdown into herself, down into the floor, seeking the earth. And there was neither voice nor breath from her lips.