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Village Art & Literature

Village Book Review: The Will of the State

Posted on April 30 2017 at 2:55:13 0 comments

Terry

Village Book Review: The Will of the State
by Jack Walsh

For his second novel, Rednal author Terry Walsh (writing as Jack Walsh) has tackled an even more epic subject than the Vietnam War setting of his debut tale – this one spans a fifty-year period in the history of the Soviet Union, with all the complexity and brutality that entails.

The Will of the State is every bit as forbidding as it sounds, portraying the relentlessly awful journey of its protagonist, Vasily, from decorated hero to shattered victim of crimes against humanity.

At 366 pages it can be rather an exhausting read, but then maybe the length serves to emphasis the monotonous existence of life in the gulags as well as Vasily’s half-life after his eventual release into the less repressive but still-bleak 1970s.

Starting in 1974 as Vasily begins to write his memoirs, we then flash back to the battle of Stalingrad, with graphic depictions of the carnage plus musings on the ultimate futility of war – and, with the inclusion of a sympathetic German character, the idea that both sides have much in common and both the losers and victors will suffer in equal measure.

Even more disturbing than the war scenes and the horror of the gulags is the section set in the “Human Research Facility”, which apparently does not exist in reality but so easily could have done.

The fact that the author has managed to dream up such a depraved place – and its torturer-in-chief, the irredeemably monstrous Valentina Krilenkova – is testament not only to his vivid imagination but also to the vast amount of research he has carried out, covering a long and once-secretive chunk of history.

Walsh, through the immediacy of Vasily’s first-person narrative, also raises some intriguing philosophical points, such as whether the true evil resides in the people who carry out the government’s orders to the letter and beyond, rather than in the governments themselves: “Perhaps they are too high up in their ivory towers to want to realise the extent of their crimes”.

Unlike the Vietnam-set Twilight’s Last Gleaming, The Will of the State does at least have, while not quite a happy ending, a resolution of sorts – and through it all there is a much-needed seam of hopefulness in Vasily’s gritty determination to survive; his own will ultimately triumphing over that of the State. 

Review by SO

The Will of the State is available from Amazon.


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