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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Keeper of Antiquities

Yury Dombrovsky

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Title: The Keeper of Antiquities
Author: Yury Dombrovsky
Genre: Novel
Written: 1964 (Eng. 1969)
Length: 273 pages
Original in: Russian
Availability: The Keeper of Antiquities is currently out of print
  • Russian title: Хранитель древностей
  • Translated by Michael Glenny
  • Note that in many respects this novel is an introduction to Dombrovsky's more ambitious The Faculty of Useless Knowledge (see our review).

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Our Assessment:

A- : An interesting account of a slice of Soviet life in the 1930's

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 30/8/1997 .
New Statesman . 24/10/1969 Paul Bailey
The NY Times Book Rev. . 4/5/1969 E.J.Simmons
Virginia Quart. Rev. . Summer/1969 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "Dombrowskij jedoch sorgt dafür, daß der Schrecken seinen Alltag hat. Wie alle Alltage ist auch dieser manchmal banal, zuweilen aber unerwartet schön. Wer überleben will, muß sich mit ihm verbünden und darf nicht darüber nachdenken, daß er vielleicht scheitern wird." - Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Yury Dombrovsky's novel is set in Alma-Ata, in the vast Central Asian province (now nation) Kazakhstan, in the late 1930's. An obscurer part of the Soviet world, it is where Dombrovsky was sent in internal exile for many years, and this and his later, larger The Faculty of Useless Knowledge, are also an homage to this unusual region.
       The nameless hero of the novel is an archaeologist who works at the local museum. He is known as the Keeper -- or the Keeper of Antiquities. His main concern and interest is his job, cataloguing and organizing the museum exhibits, and he tries to stay above the fray of bureaucracy and politics that surrounds him. Down to earth and a serious scholar, the Keeper is a sympathetic figure who speaks his mind and does what he thinks is right in a time and place where this is very difficult. He is not painted as a hero, standing up to a brutal regime, merely a rational person thrust in an irrational world.
       Alam-Ata, for all its aspirations, is a sleepy little town (nicely described in the first chapter). The museum director (also hoping to make more out of his museum) is understanding of the Keeper, and balances the different forces well. Threats of danger lurk at every corner in a society where suspicion is second-nature -- and too often justified.
       A snake wends its way through the novel -- a huge boa constrictor -- and people constantly claim to have seen it or tell stories of the damage it has caused. A simple metaphor for what was happening in the Soviet Union at the time, Dombrovsky is perhaps too obvious in his choice of symbols, but the resolution he chooses is poignant and frustratingly appropriate.
       The episodes Dombrovsky relates are interesting and amusing, an unusual picture of a part and a time of the Soviet Union still too unfamiliar in the West. It is not a dark book, though it is thoughtful. Dryly amusing the Stalinist shadow does not intrude too obviously, though it does darken all the pages.
       A successful novel, a fairly quick read, we certainly recommend this.

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Reviews: Other books by Dombrovsky under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Soviet author Yury Osipovich Dombrovsky (Юрий Домбровский) (1909-1978) was born in Moscow but spent much of his life in internal exile in Alma-Ata, Kazakhstan. He was also sent to the notorious Kolmya camps, but survived this and other encounters with Stalin's brutal regime. Rehabilitated in the 1950's he was able to return to Moscow, where he lived until his death. An important author he received too little recognition, at home and abroad, until the publication of The Faculty of Useless Knowledge in 1978.

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