Denunciation became so commonplace under Stalin that people regarded it as their patriotic duty to spy on others and even expose members of their own family. The original Bolsheviks, for reasons of ideological purity, put great store in transparency. But under Stalin, transparency evolved into a state of constant surveillance.
A young man named Sasha Parsky kills two soldiers who come to arrest his parents as kulaks. He escapes arrest though not suspicion. Sasha, now under greater scrutiny, is asked by Boris Filatov, the chief of the local secret police, to take a position as the head of a small boys school with the condition that Sasha spy on the previous director, who was dismissed for political reasons.
As Sasha’s visits to the exiled man turn into discussions on politics and Sasha begins making changes at the school, it is only a matter of time before anonymous letters denouncing him arrive on Filatov’s desk. But even more ominous is the arrival of two men from the past who have the knowledge to do Sasha great harm. Caught between Filatov and the fear of exposure, Sasha hazards all in testing the fidelity of a loved one.
“The Denouncer is an act of brilliant generosity, allowing us access to violent and heartbreaking events with so much subtlety and beauty that the experience is more like hearing great music than getting kicked in the shins. But make no mistake: the power is there, and it gets beneath our skins and into our hearts. This is a crucial book by one of our finest and most capacious writers.” — James Kincaid, Aerol Arnold Professor of English, University of Southern California; author of Lost