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Untraceable

av Sergei Lebedev

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4310474,837 (3.68)4
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Maybe it's just because I like Russian novels: confusing names and identities, long philosophical and guilt-ridden musings, darkness and suffering. Readers of Untraceable who complained that it wasn't the "page-turning spy thriller" they were hoping for should have paid more attention to the quote from the scholar of Russian history, Anne Appelbaum: "a fascinating window on modern Russia." Which it is. A smeared, fogged, distorted and distorting window, which may hide as much as it shows - and that's the point. Who's who? Who are the good guys? Who are the bad guys? What evils were committed in the name of service to one's country? To one's own ambition and obsession? Where *are* we (or they) exactly? How does one live with, excuse, or reconcile acts that were errors or crimes? That is the kind of book this is. The reader must have patience, tolerance for confusion and ambiguity, and a fascination with the scary, secretive world of Soviet and post-Soviet Russia doesn't hurt.

Lengthy, graceful, brooding chapters from the point of view of two murderers (going Raskolnikov one better, without as much angst). A stoic priest. The ultimate in poison. An assassination mission hindered by all manner of natural, accidental, or simply stupid mishaps. Or are they?

I loved it. ( )
  JulieStielstra | Jul 15, 2021 |
“Untraceable” ended up not entirely working for me. I saw a review of the book that declared it was in the style of le Carre´, by an acclaimed young Russian writer, and that it involved poisoning in foreign countries by Russian agents. Seemed good. I found the book to be way to mannered, introspective, and it all seemed to be intentionally difficult to read. I have read much le Carre´ and while his books are labyrinthine they are understandable and there is forward momentum. There is almost no dialog in this book, it is all descriptions of thoughts and memories and I truly had trouble figuring out who was who and what was what for quite a while. Eventually the characters and the story come into some better focus but I never felt an emotional attachment to the story and that is really necessary to get the impact of the narrative. I truly don’t understand not naming places and locations. I think it is just a different style than I wanted and it did not resonate with me. That being said there are passages that are wonderful and there is an overarching story that is important. I just wished it had been delivered in a more invigorating package. ( )
  MarkMad | Jul 14, 2021 |
Well this may be a very good book but it's of a kind I don't enjoy. The prose (in translation, at least) is very brusque and full of exteriors. It felt something like reading a screenplay. Open any page and you get a sense of the style, and if it appeals to you, for instance--

"Kalitan felt uncomfortable. The pushy women, the noisy, grumbling line, the obnoxious kids annoyed him. The boys suddenly ran off and whispered to the adultsm pointing at the car. Kalitin turned around and saw that the bouncing ride had loosened the tarp,. The sun shone on the monkey's dead face, yellow teeth bared in the pink mouth; shiny chrome-green flies crawled over the black fur."

THis book will probably work well for readers who like to read for plot and movement rather than for motivation and characterization. ( )
  poingu | Mar 23, 2021 |
For many years, Kalitin has lived alone on the hill, in the house at the end of the road, isolated from his neighbours. He kept for himself, guarded the secrets of his former life, knowing that one day, they would catch up with him. Now, with the cancer in his body, there is not much time left anyway. His enemies are already on their way, two men, the ordinary set-up, to find and kill him. Agents who turn into angels of death because Kalitin not only knows too much, but because he was the man to develop Neophyte, a highly lethal substance which leaves no trace when applied, perfect to get rid of obnoxious people who know too much or who have fled the secure boundaries of their former home country. Such a behaviour against the code of honour is something Shershnev cannot accept. He has always been hard, hard against himself, hard against his son, hard against everybody. Two men who after a long life in the service of a country which does not exist anymore, have to fight their last battle.

“Kalitin knew that his inventions did not simply create specific weapons of death poured into ampoules. He also produced fear.”

Sergei Lebedev’s novel tells the story of two men who have seen everything in life and for whom life and death have been just states which a person can be in but nothing spiritual. Now, close to the end of their lives, they not only look back but also start to question what they have seen and done. “Untraceable” also tells the story of a lethal weapon we have heard of in the news more than once in the last couple of years. The time of shooting double agents, dissidents, whistle blowers and the like are gone, the strategies and means have become much more sophisticated, but one thing has remained the same: the human factor.

“In that world, most people did not yet see the dark side of science, its evil twin.”

For Kalitin, science, the discoveries and expansion of his knowledge about how nature works have always been paramount. However, he has come to understand that the leaders of the URRS for whom he worked had a different understanding and that, first and foremost, the individual scientist wasn’t worth much. He was only an obedient soldier on duty for the state. Surely, they gave him the opportunity to work in his lab, but at the end of his life, he also sees the price this came with and he can see the bigger picture. He wasn’t interested in politics, he has always seen himself just as a scientist, but eventually, he has to acknowledge that it isn’t so simple and that he cannot put the blame only on the others.

Shershnev, too, ruminates about his life which he has fully dedicated to the long gone state. He is one of the last still on duty who have lived in the USSR and who still, after all those decades, adheres to the old values. He has to admit having made mistakes. Big mistakes which haunt him now. Yet, he follows the assigned mission stubbornly, too weak to make a courageous decision himself.

The beginning was a bit slow, I didn’t get the connection between the different characters and chapter immediately. However, as soon as the main conflict was laid out, the novel was not only suspenseful but also morally challenging since it raises the big issue of science and the responsibility of the scientists. Additionally, it is no question that the former USSR was a rogue regime, yet, no system is flawless and to what extent each civil servant, soldier or simple citizen complies with given values and rules has to be answered individually.

A thrilling political thriller which also offers a lot of food for thought. ( )
  miss.mesmerized | Feb 2, 2021 |
The blurbs for Sergei Lebedev's UNTRACEABLE sounded fascinating, noting it was inspired by the real events surrounding the poisoning of that Russian defector in London a few years back. Kinda like all those Jody Picoult novels "torn from today's headlines." Except Lebedev's method of giving us the backstory - and it is MOSTLY backstory - is so serpentine and fragmented, jumping between its two major characters, that I found myself becoming frustrated and impatient. I wanted to just give up on it, but I persisted. In fact, I can't belief I read the whole thing. The two central characters - Kalitin, a chemist researcher who specialized in formulating untraceable poisons and had defected from the former USSR decades ago, and Shershnev, an assassin sent from a secret Russian department to eliminate the scientist before he can assist a western group investigating the mysterious murder of yet another Russian defector. It took almost half the book to set all this up, but I was intrigued by the historical references to the Soviet war in Afghanistan and the Russian war in Chechnya, so I kept reading, all the way to the bitter - disappointing - end. Although Lebedev does manage to "humanize" these two characters, I could not bring myself to like either one. Sorry, Sergei. Just not my cuppa tea. Not recommended.

- Tim Bazzett, author of the memoir, BOOKLOVER ( )
  TimBazzett | Jan 24, 2021 |
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tillagd av -pilgrim- | ändraThe Guardian, Luke Harding (Feb 13, 2021)
 

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Sergei Lebedevprimär författarealla utgåvorberäknat
Bouis, Antonina W.Översättaremedförfattarevissa utgåvorbekräftat
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