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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Comrade Kirillov

Raja Rao

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Title: Comrade Kirillov
Author: Raja Rao
Genre: Novel
Written: (1976)
Length: 127 pages
Availability: Comrade Kirillov - US
Comrade Kirillov - UK
Comrade Kirillov - Canada
  • Comrade Kirillov was first published in a French translation in 1965. The definitive, revised edition was first published in English in 1976.

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Our Assessment:

B : sketchy novella, powerful in part

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Comrade Kirillov is a sketch of a South Indian man, Padmanabha Iyer, whom the Rao-like narrator styles Kirillov. "I first met communism in Kirillov", the novella begins, and the book is an exploration of this manifestation in modern man. An Indian who ventured abroad when still young, Kirillov came to England in 1928 and settled there. He is a seeker, and taken from the first by Marxism, it offering (as he sees it) a certainty that Indian tradition did not:

The predictability of events in the dialectical calendar far surpassed the accuracy of the Indian astrologer. The deft astrological hands could play humbug, but the figure of statistics never does.
       The rise of Hitler, with his house painter humbug, and the weakness Kirillov sees both in India and even England pushes him to the only alternative he sees:
There is Stalin. Father Stalin. He alone has the might and magic of the new world. The senility of the Labour Party is the bane of the British working classes. England is finished. Stalin is certain.
       Kirillov can excuse and justify the show-trials, while at the same time denigrating Mahatma Gandhi and his efforts in India.
       The novella covers the 1930s and 1940s, to Indian independence and beyond. As the narrator recognises, Kirillov is torn between the Indian tradition that remains a part of him and the new-found ideology that he has embraced. Indeed, even as he claims to be what amounts to the Soviet ideal, he sounds like nothing so much as the ascetics of his homeland:
     "Anonymous my name," Kirillov had once declared to me, "Logic my religion, Communism my motherland." How alike, I thought to myself, my Sannyasi of Benares, and this Sadhu of Communism.
       Kirillov eventually returns to India. Independence allows for some hope -- the narrator certain: "his Indianhood would break through every communist chain" -- but Kirillov can't easily reconcile these two parts of himself.
       The book moves from second- to even third-hand narrative, the author offering a chunk of the diary of Kirillov's wife, Irene, before the conclusion. It is the next generation, Kirillov's son Kamal, that is then the focus at the end, the author giving up on Kirillov (dismissing him as "last reported to be at Peking"). Kamal, soon immersed in his past, offers hope for the future, while Kirillov is lost down this path he can not escape from, obsessed like the religious fanatic.
       Rao writes well, but this is a sketchy book -- not hasty, but offering a fill of life (and ideology) in quick, fine brushstrokes. There's much that could have been filled out and told in greater detail, but the almost flighty approach is a convincing reflection of Kirillov's own torn personality, his own uncertainty and the tug between India and Communism very effectively conveyed. It is also an interesting novel of the Indian expatriate experience in the 1930s (that is not the primary focus of the book, but it offers a good general impression of it).

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Raja Rao: Other books by Raja Rao under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Indian literature

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About the Author:

       Indian author Raja Rao lived 1908 to 2006. He was awarded the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, 1988.

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