A review of 36 Yalta Boulevard, by Olen Steinhauer
@@@@ (4 out of 5)
In this, the third novel in Olen Steinhauer’s outstanding Central European cycle, we view the world through the eyes of Brano Sev, a World War II partisan fighter turned secret policeman in his unnamed Soviet satellite country. Now, nearing 50, Brano has been working for months on the assembly line at a factory as punishment for an espionage scandal that erupted after he was sent on assignment to Vienna. Without warning, his superiors pull him out of the factory. temporarily reinstate him as a major in the security service, and send him off to his home village, where he is to investigate why a defector has suddenly returned to the village and what he’s planning to do. The ensuing complications threaten not just to end Brano’s career but possibly his life as well. He flees to Vienna, where his long-held beliefs in the Communist system are challenged from all quarters.
36 Yalta Boulevard — the address is that of the security service headquarters in The Capital — continues the story begun in The Bridge of Sighs and The Confession, which follows the life and work of the five men who make up the homicide department in The Capital’s police department. (Brano is the secret service spy in their midst.) The first book is set in 1948, the second in 1956, and 36 Yalta Boulevard in 1966-67. Two later novels — Liberation Movements and Victory Square — carry the tale forward into the 1970s and 1980s, thus traversing the entire half-century history of Communism in Eastern Europe.
Now, nearly a quarter-century after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Empire in Central and Eastern Europe, a new generation is growing up ignorant of the Cold War reality that hung over our lives for as long as most of us over 30 can remember. Olen Steinhauer brings back one important aspect of that reality in these unusually well-crafted books: the life and times of the millions who existed under the varying but always oppressive weight of state socialism — some, like Brano, willingly, even eagerly; others, indifferent or resisting.
Steinhauer has won numerous awards for the novels in this unusually engaging cycle. He deserves more.
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