Tuesday, November 29, 2016
Review of Pavel and I by Dan Vyleta (Bloomsbury, 2008)
Set in the freezing ruins of post-war Berlin, Pavel and I has the feel and atmosphere of the film version of The Third Man. At the heart of the tale is Pavel, a former GI, Sonia who has survived post-war as a prostitute, Anders, an orphan who splits his time between Pavel and his street-gang who hustle and thieve to get by, and a rogue, over-weight British colonel. Hovering on the fringes is a Russian general. What brings them together is the dead body of a dwarf stuffed in a suitcase and the secret he holds. It’s an interesting hook and Vyleta uses it to spin an elliptical tale of spies, street gangs, prostitution, violent state services, survival, friendship and budding love. It’s very much a character-drive story, yet each character is not quite what they seem. That is very much the case with Pavel. Indeed, near the end of the tale, the narrator of the story, a British ex-soldier, remarks that there is a hole at the centre of the story he's telling – and that hole is the enigmatic Pavel. The narrator’s knowledge of him is based on events that happen over a few short weeks during which Pavel barely reveals anything about his past and acts in a calm and collected way. While that could have been quite frustrating, it actually draws the reader in. The result is an intriguing, atmospheric and ambivalent tale.