Pavel & I
By Dan Vyleta
There are a lot of war novels out there. War and its aftermath have the fascination to draw us in, to hold us in thrall. Here’s another, but unlike every other war novel, this one eludes our attempts to put the story in its place. It is an espionage story, pitting Russian British and a lone American spy against each other and at odds with the local populace.
Set in the anarchic period of a divided Berlin in the winter immediately after the defeat of the Nazi horror that enveloped Europe in the mid twentieth century, the author has chosen an unusual anti-hero for his narrator. Peterson is an under-the-radar spymaster working for a fat slut of a British colonel The colonel is trying to find a midget and acquire the important information he possesses. Peterson is not an admirable character. Indeed of all the evil and detestable characters in this novel, he is the most detestable, obsequious, pandering, sliding slimily through the pages, wringing his hands and desperately trying to avoid blame. The I of the title.
Jean Pavel Richter is apparently nobody, a former GI left adrift as the war wound down,suffering from bad kidneys, somehow involved with one friend, an American whore-master for whom he is willing to get involved. And that is the core of Pavel. His humanity runs so deep he will got to almost any lengths to protect those he deems worthy. Some of them are boys of the street gangs left parentless and homeless. Others the prostitutes of the district. And always there is the microfilm that drives this narrative, but is not at the center of the story.
The vortex of this novel is an illumination of the evil mankind is willing to bear and to visit upon others in order to achieve desired ends. Pavel, at the center of both the evil and the transcendent goodness that somehow rises from juddering cold, cross and double-cross, and sudden brutal violence, somehow manages to achieve his ends, although readers looking for a neatly tidied ending to this dark disturbing novel will be sorely disappointed.