Anna Berseneva, writer
Sergey Lebedev's books have been translated into many languages; in Europe he is one of the most famous contemporary Russian writers. In Russia, however, they diligently do not pay attention to this, and it’s good if they just don’t pay attention - they can casually notice that the world interest in the author is connected, they say, with the literary lack of sophistication of the foreign reader. Whether it’s the case, we think in large artistic categories, we read only about the eternal, and not about momentary political events.
Meanwhile, the new, fifth in a row, And meanwhile, the new, fifth in a row, Sergey Lebedev's novel "Debutant" (Moscow: Corpvs. 2021) is written so deeply and subtly precisely in the artistic sense that there are no allowances for superficial interest in political the topic does not have to be done. Moreover, we are not talking about verbal patterns - the style of this text is quite minimalistic - but about artistry in the full sense of the word.
After it became known about the assassination attempts with the help of chemical warfare agents on people of various professions, including Alexei Navalny, the society had many questions. Who carried out the poisoning, in what ways, with what substances, with what consequences for life... Sergey Lebedev had a question that was natural for a writer: how does the personality of the person who does all this work? The one who creates poisons, calculates how painful or quick death will be, conducts experiments. The one who uses these poisons. Someone who "just" delivers them to the place of use. It is clear that the question of the nature of evil has been asked by the literature since its inception. The author does not even pretend to consider himself a pioneer. It is no coincidence that his book is preceded by an epigraph from Faust, in which the homunculus says to Mephistopheles: “You came here at the right moment for my debut”. And the name of the poison - Debutant - immediately acquires not only recognizable political, but also deeper associations.
The nature of evil in general appears in this novel through acutely modern events. The author clearly does not believe that the relevance of texture is detrimental to prose, and his prose proves the validity of this belief. The main characters are a chemist who turned into a defector, a lieutenant colonel of the Russian special services, who was tasked with eliminating the chemist with the help of his own "creation", and a Czech pastor who, by force of circumstances, found out about all this. In the past of each of them there have been events that have caused each not only psychological, but irreparable moral damage, which they all try to exaggerate to the best of their ideas about the ways to do this.
All of them are written with an equal measure of expressiveness, and yet the main author's attention is focused on the first of them, Kalitin, who “was a knowledgeable, intelligent chemist. But, in comparison with others, not a genius. He needed this closed, hermetic world for existence, for work. He lacked the very gravity of morality and was able to rise to the heights of narrow genius, creating the Debutant, the best of his creations. "
The consciousness of Kalitin, who was still in his adolescence on the closed Island, where the development of chemical warfare agents was carried out, realized that he wanted to devote his life only to this occupation, is not just researched, but literally dissected into a novel.
“Kalitin was attracted by the paradoxical freedom-in-prison that Ostrov provided in the country of ideologized, dogmatically mediated science. He knew him as a mollusk knows its shell, and he carried it everywhere with him, even when he lost it. " His escape from the collapsed USSR was revenge for betrayal, because the country deprived him of the opportunity to do what he loved - to create death.
Kalitin finds sophisticated justification for his occupation:
“After all, he also understood that the visibility of death, its eternal fate, the condemnation to leave traces, to be recognized, is natural goodness, a red signal thread sewn into the structure of the world. This is how the original law of retribution is coded, realized in matter. This means that the very possibility of its implementation. The possibility of the existence of concepts of crime, guilt, retribution, atonement, repentance. Morality as such. "
It is possible to circumvent this law, to abolish good as the basis of the world order, Kalitin decides. You just need to make sure that death "comes invisibly, penetrates beyond any cover, leaving no trace - this is the highest power, the ability to directly command being".
The second killer character, Lieutenant Colonel Shershnyov, has a simpler rationale: he personifies the proverb "the claw is stuck - the whole bird is lost." The claw of his psyche is bogged down in the crimes committed during the Chechen wars, and Shershnyov's sick consciousness is concentrated after that on only one thing: to forget about what he had done. There are no obstacles for him in his feverish attempts to escape from himself. He no longer perceives either his wife or even his son as close, and moreover, he realizes that, had the circumstances developed in a certain way, the teenage son could well have become his victim.
This terrible race from death to death is described in a novel with strong dynamics. And about the Island, where more and more new types of chemical weapons were invented over the decades, it was told with the knowledge of many details. In the terrible history of this Island - pre-war cooperation with the Reich, post-war accidents that led to the birth of sick children in the surrounding villages, death of employees, and not only employees during experiments, fear mixed with amoralism ... The text is literally riddled with facts that turn into symbols in those cases when it is necessary, and therefore nothing in it looks abstract. How this is done makes it possible to understand the following, for example, a scene:
“But the stubborn substance did not give in, and Kalitin, hardened, threw a pencil on the floor, fixed his gaze on the ceiling of the laboratory, the dome of the former temple, hung with ventilation boxes. From the old painting there was only one, cut up to the chest, angel in the corner. <…> Kalitin liked to look at a pensive face in a golden rim, at a narrow golden pipe pressed against the angel's lips. He was in his power, this ghost of a different era, the herald of the failed trial, who for a long time outlived that pre-revolutionary world in which he as an image had meaning, the direct power of meaning. Looking at this angel, possessing the special stubbornness of the last fragment, not wanting to disappear, incorruptible testifying to the whole, Kalitin realized that death by its very nature is a dirty business, and this is not a metaphor".
He becomes a "death fanatic", completely immersed in what the Czech pastor Travnichek would later call creativity in the name of evil. In his reflections on this - and the reflections are supported by personal tragic experience - Travnichek comes to the most important conclusion for himself: people who invent toxic substances do not just go beyond the bounds of ethics, violating the commandment "Thou shalt not kill". The fact is that what they have created is devoid of the very dimension of good, that is, it contradicts the laws of the universe.
A homunculus winking from his flask to Mephistopheles is immediately recalled at the same time.
The beauty of the novel "Debutant" (if such an epithet is appropriate for a text of such content) lies in the fact that its plot and psychological tension, its saturation with realities, its political relevance - all of this is highlighted by an enduring meaning. This explains the attention of discerning readers to the books of Sergey Lebedev.