El fiel Ruslan_PostVladimov places us in a ghostly setting; a cold and misty forest, at the gate to a Russian work field which, to the surprise of one of its guards, Ruslan the dog, is open. The wires are of no use anymore. There are no more prisoners to scare off or fugitives to hunt. There are no masters left. And the faithful Caucasian hunter does not know what to do. They let him loose too. Well, they abandoned him. During the first part of this novel, Vladimov, through the voice of the four-legged faithful, manages to submerge us in the most absolute confusion: all he sacrificed for values and men is gone. Now, chaos is ruling for Ruslan. His life does not make sense without the Service. It is all a complete confusion.

Then we follow the wandering existence of the main character, melancholic and distressed, through this rugged land, and the novel becomes somewhat sentimental. Ruslan forms an allegiance with an ex-detainee to survive, although he never gives up the thought that one day everything will go back to normal. There is a scene towards the end, where Ruslan and his companions – the fierce and bloodthirsty Dzhulbars, the brave Baikal and even the timid Lux, among others – see a lot of men and women get off a train and come back to the village. Instinct makes the pack escort the crowd to where everything makes sense: “They went with them to the shining home of the good and the peaceful, where a harmonious order will cure them of all their illnesses.”

Censured in the USSR, and developed on the basis of a story that Vladimov himself wrote at the end of the 70’s, the novel immerses the reader in that unpleasant place where one has the impression that the wood from the burnt shacks is still giving off smoke; that open-door cold. Through Ruslan’s eyes, we live in a world as peaceful as it is chaotic. Indeed, his tragedy can be read as a parable of the disorder that Khrushchev’s measures since 1956 must have caused. However, one closes this novel with the feeling that Vladimov, while sticking his sword in the back of human misery, could have spilled a lot more blood for the reader’s enjoyment, had he decided to rummage around the scars of men instead of praising the stupid faithfulness of the dog. Still, the dark and disconcerting atmosphere of the empty gulags and the silence of that forest, broken only by the barks, are sufficiently admirable to recommend Vladimov’s prose.