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Untraceable por Sergei Lebedev
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Untraceable (edição 2021)

por Sergei Lebedev (Autor), Antonina W. Bouis (Tradutor)

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298644,753 (3.69)1
Autores:Sergei Lebedev (Autor)
Outros autores:Antonina W. Bouis (Tradutor)
Informação:New Vessel Press (2021), Edition: Reprint, Translation, 242 pages
Colecções:A sua biblioteca

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Untraceable por Sergei Lebedev

Adicionado recentemente porHauge, Canaanlibrary, christinefyfe, ir3adu, dom61uk, poingu, Katong
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Esta crítica foi escrita no âmbito dos Primeiros Críticos do LibraryThing.
Well this may be a very good book but it's of a kind I don't enjoy. The prose (in translation, at least) is very brusque and full of exteriors. It felt something like reading a screenplay. Open any page and you get a sense of the style, and if it appeals to you, for instance--

"Kalitan felt uncomfortable. The pushy women, the noisy, grumbling line, the obnoxious kids annoyed him. The boys suddenly ran off and whispered to the adultsm pointing at the car. Kalitin turned around and saw that the bouncing ride had loosened the tarp,. The sun shone on the monkey's dead face, yellow teeth bared in the pink mouth; shiny chrome-green flies crawled over the black fur."

THis book will probably work well for readers who like to read for plot and movement rather than for motivation and characterization. ( )
  poingu | Mar 23, 2021 |
For many years, Kalitin has lived alone on the hill, in the house at the end of the road, isolated from his neighbours. He kept for himself, guarded the secrets of his former life, knowing that one day, they would catch up with him. Now, with the cancer in his body, there is not much time left anyway. His enemies are already on their way, two men, the ordinary set-up, to find and kill him. Agents who turn into angels of death because Kalitin not only knows too much, but because he was the man to develop Neophyte, a highly lethal substance which leaves no trace when applied, perfect to get rid of obnoxious people who know too much or who have fled the secure boundaries of their former home country. Such a behaviour against the code of honour is something Shershnev cannot accept. He has always been hard, hard against himself, hard against his son, hard against everybody. Two men who after a long life in the service of a country which does not exist anymore, have to fight their last battle.

“Kalitin knew that his inventions did not simply create specific weapons of death poured into ampoules. He also produced fear.”

Sergei Lebedev’s novel tells the story of two men who have seen everything in life and for whom life and death have been just states which a person can be in but nothing spiritual. Now, close to the end of their lives, they not only look back but also start to question what they have seen and done. “Untraceable” also tells the story of a lethal weapon we have heard of in the news more than once in the last couple of years. The time of shooting double agents, dissidents, whistle blowers and the like are gone, the strategies and means have become much more sophisticated, but one thing has remained the same: the human factor.

“In that world, most people did not yet see the dark side of science, its evil twin.”

For Kalitin, science, the discoveries and expansion of his knowledge about how nature works have always been paramount. However, he has come to understand that the leaders of the URRS for whom he worked had a different understanding and that, first and foremost, the individual scientist wasn’t worth much. He was only an obedient soldier on duty for the state. Surely, they gave him the opportunity to work in his lab, but at the end of his life, he also sees the price this came with and he can see the bigger picture. He wasn’t interested in politics, he has always seen himself just as a scientist, but eventually, he has to acknowledge that it isn’t so simple and that he cannot put the blame only on the others.

Shershnev, too, ruminates about his life which he has fully dedicated to the long gone state. He is one of the last still on duty who have lived in the USSR and who still, after all those decades, adheres to the old values. He has to admit having made mistakes. Big mistakes which haunt him now. Yet, he follows the assigned mission stubbornly, too weak to make a courageous decision himself.

The beginning was a bit slow, I didn’t get the connection between the different characters and chapter immediately. However, as soon as the main conflict was laid out, the novel was not only suspenseful but also morally challenging since it raises the big issue of science and the responsibility of the scientists. Additionally, it is no question that the former USSR was a rogue regime, yet, no system is flawless and to what extent each civil servant, soldier or simple citizen complies with given values and rules has to be answered individually.

A thrilling political thriller which also offers a lot of food for thought. ( )
  miss.mesmerized | Feb 2, 2021 |
Esta crítica foi escrita no âmbito dos Primeiros Críticos do LibraryThing.
The blurbs for Sergei Lebedev's UNTRACEABLE sounded fascinating, noting it was inspired by the real events surrounding the poisoning of that Russian defector in London a few years back. Kinda like all those Jody Picoult novels "torn from today's headlines." Except Lebedev's method of giving us the backstory - and it is MOSTLY backstory - is so serpentine and fragmented, jumping between its two major characters, that I found myself becoming frustrated and impatient. I wanted to just give up on it, but I persisted. In fact, I can't belief I read the whole thing. The two central characters - Kalitin, a chemist researcher who specialized in formulating untraceable poisons and had defected from the former USSR decades ago, and Shershnev, an assassin sent from a secret Russian department to eliminate the scientist before he can assist a western group investigating the mysterious murder of yet another Russian defector. It took almost half the book to set all this up, but I was intrigued by the historical references to the Soviet war in Afghanistan and the Russian war in Chechnya, so I kept reading, all the way to the bitter - disappointing - end. Although Lebedev does manage to "humanize" these two characters, I could not bring myself to like either one. Sorry, Sergei. Just not my cuppa tea. Not recommended.

- Tim Bazzett, author of the memoir, BOOKLOVER ( )
  TimBazzett | Jan 24, 2021 |
Raised on Le Carré, He Wrote a Thriller Dipped in Poison
By Tobias Grey
Jan. 21, 2021

Growing up in Moscow, Sergei Lebedev honed his English, reluctantly at first and then greedily, by reading his way through his family’s library of detective fiction.

His parents, geologists who often used English in their work, particularly encouraged him to read the work of the spy novelist John le Carré. Lebedev grew to appreciate le Carré, the author of such books as “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” and “The Russia House,” for, he said, “defining what the Cold War looked like for ordinary readers.”

Lebedev, now 39, decided to send le Carré a copy of his latest novel, “Untraceable,” after it was translated into English. But according to Lebedev, the writer died before he had a chance to read it.

“I think he would have liked it,” Lebedev said during a video interview from his home in Berlin earlier this month. “Untraceable,” his first spy thriller after four novels that were more autobiographical in nature, shares some of le Carré’s fascination with secret worlds and the nature of evil.

The similarities did not go unnoticed in Russia when the publisher Corpus released the book, titled “Debutant,” two months ago. According to a critic at the arts magazine Moskvich, Lebedev “unexpectedly appears in the role of a Russian John le Carré … writing without regard for personal or political boundaries.”

In the United States, New Vessel Press will publish “Untraceable,” translated by Antonina W. Bouis, on Feb. 2. It tells the tale of an aging scientist, Kalitin, who defects to the West after the fall of the Soviet Union. He discovers that the lethal, undetectable poison he was once responsible for developing is being used by the Russian secret services to eliminate their political opponents — potentially including him.

Lebedev began writing “Untraceable” after the 2018 poisoning of Sergei V. Skripal, a former Russian spy, and his daughter Yulia, in Salisbury, England. What most intrigued Lebedev were reports that the nerve agent used to attack the Skripals was originally developed in Shikhany, a small town on the Volga River about 600 miles south of Moscow.

“I thought, ‘Wow, this story has a very long shadow in the past,’” Lebedev said. “It goes back to the very origin of chemical warfare and its consequences.”

He knew this from the research he had done on his previous novel, “The Goose Fritz,” which explored military cooperation between the Soviet Union and Germany in the late 1920s and early ’30s. With “Untraceable,” he sought to bring the story to the present day.

“Not so many novels are written in terms of what is happening in Russia now,” Lebedev said. “They write a lot about the Stalinist past and about some other historical periods, but the tragedies and the problems of the current moment are somehow ignored or avoided. I wanted to write a genre novel for the broader audience.”

But as has tended to happen over the past few frenetic years, more news — in this instance, the poisoning, recovery and subsequent arrest of the Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny — overtook the timely angle of his novel. “My novel was written just a year before it happened, and now it’s being consumed by this real-time case,” Lebedev said.

After the attack in August, Navalny was airlifted to Berlin for emergency medical treatment. Lebedev moved to the German city from Moscow two years ago with his wife, who was offered a grant there for her work as a political scientist. He described it as “a safe haven for some people” and compared it to “the 1920s, when Berlin was full of Russian émigrés.”

Before he devoted himself to writing full-time, first as a journalist and then as a novelist, Lebedev, like his parents, worked as a geologist. Part of a team of scientists who collected minerals for museums and private collections, he ventured to remote parts of Russia, including northern regions where he discovered the abandoned gulags that were shut down in the late 1950s. Later he connected this experience to the history of his maternal grandmother’s second husband, a decorated war hero who helped run some of those camps under Stalin.

“It was then I realized that maybe some things in my life were not accidents,” Lebedev said. “I thought maybe my work as a geologist is something important now, because I have seen this man’s secret kingdom, and I can bring him back to the light from the shadows.”

The experience motivated Lebedev to write his first novel, “Oblivion,” which explored the legacy of the Soviet prison camp system in a way that, according to Bouis, who has translated all but one of his novels, no Russian writer had done since Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

“Sergei has that same kind of moral compass,” she said. “‘Untraceable’ is really a moral and philosophical study of what kind of people make poison. Why do they do that? And what are the ramifications for you as a human being if you fall into that line of work?”

In the book, Vladimir Putin’s name is never mentioned, nor are Russia’s Federal Security Service, or F.S.B., or its predecessor, the K.G.B. “They are necessary for this story, but it’s not directly about them,” Lebedev said. “It’s about knowledge and power and the dark romance between totalitarianism and science during the 20th century.”

Kalitin, the scientist at the heart of “Untraceable,” is based on a charismatic family friend who served as a military medic but in reality, Lebedev said, worked in biological warfare. “This fact was revealed only in the 1990s when a lot of secrets lost their cover and a lot of people started to speak,” he added.

Those stories of lies and deception figure into all of his work, which include his earlier novel “The Year of the Comet,” written from the perspective of a boy seduced by the fabled exploits of his elders. They are woven into “Untraceable,” too, along with his lingering ambivalence about Russia and the fall of the Soviet Union. “I was a very double-minded person, as all Soviets were,” Lebedev said.

“I always felt that there was something hidden. Secrets were everywhere,” he added. “You feel like you exist in two contradictory universes — so writing novels is a way of curing myself.”
January 15, 2021

An aging chemist who defected to the West after the collapse of the Soviet Union is targeted by Russian assassins armed with a lethal dose of the "untraceable and imperceptible" poison he developed.

Kalitin, the 70-year-old chemist, created the neurotoxin, called Neophyte, in a secret facility on a distant Russian island. A spiritually empty "fan of death," he is now dying of cancer himself in the former German Democratic Republic. After Vyrin, a second Russian defector, is fatally poisoned, Russian generals suspecting that Kalitin is working with German police in an investigation of the killing send Shershnev, a war-damaged special forces operative, to rub him out before suspicion "falls on our country." A third player in this barbed narrative, which cycles back to Russia's collaborations with Germany on lab experiments in the 1930s, is Travniček, a compromised church pastor who prays for "the people with dead hearts." Though the novel was inspired in part by the fatal poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in England in 2018, those looking for a page-turning spy novel should probably look elsewhere. Lebedev, a modernist whose corrosive vision was introduced to U.S. readers in Oblivion (2016) and The Year of the Comet (2017), is less interested in plot than probing the wasted inner lives of his characters, the surreal aspects of their existence, and the horrors that science casually inflicts on people, animals, and the environment. Though Putin is never mentioned, his malevolent presence is felt throughout.

A darkly absorbing intellectual thriller by one of Russia's boldest young novelists.

From Novichok to Neophyte
December 5, 2020

The horrendous poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury city centre on the 4th March 2018 was the inspiration for Sergei Lebedev’s latest novel Untraceable. Set in the opaque world of Russian Intelligence, it covers a particularly sticky period in Russian history, from the 1930s right up to the 1990s.

Three people power the story: Professor Kalitin, chief chemist and developer of the fictional poison Neophyte; Uncle Igor, a god-father type character, and Lieutenant Colonel Shershnev, a special forces operative.

The mysterious Uncle Igor is an alluring personality. In the early scenes of the book we enter a lavish Russian Easter celebration he is hosting. By holding such a party, he is blatantly flouting Soviet regulation. But this is The City, Lebedev’s term for the walled community for KGB agents, party officials and chief scientists, who live by their own rules. The author’s evocation of this covert world is artfully conveyed and this is where the author is at his best, evoking mysterious, labyrinthian societies.

If Uncle Igor is flamboyant and opaque, Kalitin, his supposed nephew is just opaque.

Fast forward in the book to Kalitin’s exile in the West. The mystery of the chemist’s life unravels in a series of flashbacks, jumping back and forth in time, sometimes overly so. The reader begins to understand why Kalitin is an emotional cripple and has put all his passion into delivering the most precise and deadly of neurotoxins, which kills without trace.

I was tested by the jumps in time in this novel but was impressed with the author’s rigorous research into what was happening in the laboratories over the years. Scenes described in the book ring true. The cruel experimentation of Neophyte on animals in particular. The Island, where the gory research takes place, is a dangerous place for the local population. Over a generation growth defects and ill health start to appear. Sound familiar? Chernobyl is mentioned.

Lebedev’s delving goes as far back as the Nazi-Soviet Pact years, when German scientists collaborated on projects to develop poisons with their Russian counterparts.

The inclusion of Lieutenant Colonel Shershnev in the story, brings us into the Russia of the 1990s, the post-Soviet era. Suffering from PTSD after fighting in Chechnya and Syria, Shershnev is hired to track down Kalitin who has become an embarrassment to the present regime. His protracted mission is hampered by numerous obstacles. The plot loses pace at this point but the story becomes more realistic and humane.

What I was most conscious of, and appreciative of, reading this book, was that I was reading an authentic Russian voice (all be it in translation). So often our knowledge of Russia is one gleaned from a non-Russian writer. A John Le Carré spy novel for example may be beautifully crafted but so obviously British.

Lebedev gives us a clear insight into the problems Russia has faced and still faces in governing itself where a climate of fear eradicates trust. In this context, neurotoxins, products from the past, are still used to devastating effect. It is a chilling thought.

Untraceable is an ambitious work, one which goes far beyond the spy thriller and will appeal to those interested in Russia and the story behind the Salisbury poisonings.

The complete review's Review:

Untraceable begins with the assassination of a man once part of the Soviet secretive services who had defected and been settled in the West with a new identity. The assassination is of the ripped-from-the-headlines sort -- a discreet poisoning in a public place, so quick no one except the victim notices anything out of the ordinary. Death is not instantaneous, however -- and the man manages to gurgle out a few words: "Ambulance ... police ... murder ... not drunk ... poison ... I was poisoned".
He soon does die, but the circumstances are suspicious enough for an investigation to be launched -- and this, incidentally, brings the actual story into motion. The investigation puts another defector -- Kalitin, a talented chemist -- on the radar of the present-day Russian regime and they set their sights on him. Lieutenant Colonel Shershnev is tasked with taking Kalitin out in his German exile, eventually setting out with a colleague, Major Grebenyuk, in what turns out to be an overly elaborate plan to get to the man who abandoned his motherland. The novel then basically moves back and forth between the two converging storylines, of hunted and hunter(s).
Lebedev is very focused on character, and spends a great deal of time in fleshing out the two central ones, Kalitin and Shershnev. Many of the chapters dealing with Kalitin, in particular, follow his life-path, from the earliest days to his present-day life, as Lebedev shows how he became the man he was -- and, to some extent still is --, beginning with his early childhood.
Both Kalitin and Shershnev are children of the Soviet system; Kalitin still remember Stalin's death, when he was a little boy. At a young age already Kalitin came under the spell of his prominent Uncle Igor -- Igor Yurevich Zakharyevsky, who had risen to lieutenant general rank by the time he died. He was a scientist, and Kalitin followed in his footsteps -- and followed him also from the closed scientific center that was the City where Kalitin grew up to 'the Island': "even more closed, equipped with cutting-edge technology" -- and a place completely under Zakharyevsky's control.
Kalitin's area of expertise was poisons -- culminating in the near-perfect killing substance: "The most stable, the most untraceable substance. Neophyte". (In the original Russian the substance is: дебютант -- 'debutant' -- which doubles as the Russian title of the novel; 'Neophyte' seems a good translation ('debutant' really wouldn't do in English), but one can see why they opted not to use the name of the substance for the English title. And Untraceable is a pretty good choice, as it is what both the poison and the characters are meant to be (though, in fact ...).) When Kalitin defected -- only after the fall of the Soviet Union, in a rapidly decaying Russia -- he still had hopes of putting his deadly expertise to use -- but in the end he was more or less shoved off into the countryside, his position: "an insignificant, albeit very well-paid, job as an outside consultant in investigations dealing with chemical weapons".
Neophyte is an almost wonder drug, an ideal killer -- if correctly employed. But, for example, in the wake of one natural-seeming death a suspicious vial was found; true: "no trace of any substance was found. That was a trace in itself. Pointing to Neophyte". Everyone puts rather a lot of stock in it -- including both Kalitin (yes, he took some with him when he fled) and the Shershnev/Grebenyuk-duo prizing their small stocks above almost anything else they carry as the story wends its way to it end.
Untraceable is a thriller, but even more so a character(s)-study, Lebedev peeling back the layers to expose these men for who they are. (Another defector, who plays a pivotal role both at the beginning and end of the story, also recounts his own unusual story at the end of the novel, in another exposé of the lengths the Soviet regime went to to cripple its critics.)
Kalitin's life story, at its major stages, is unrolled, and shows a man obsessed with science and a scientific career -- but almost entirely unconcerned as to the consequences of what he does, even though the purpose of the substances couldn't be clearer: what else is poison good for, after all ? He is no ideologue:

Kalitin was not a faithful Communist. he knew the clichés and rituals well, and had a party membership card -- without it he would not have risen beyond laboratory head. Kalitin was attracted by the paradoxical freedom-in-prison that the Island offered in a land of ideologized, dogmatically mediated science.

Lebedev is particularly good on the late Soviet period of decline, mirrored on the Island (though the catastrophe at Chernobyl does prove a convenient means for Kalitin to get rid of one of his rivals), as well as then the quickly failing Russian after-state. It is telling -- and nicely damning -- that Kalitin only defects after the collapse of the old regime.
We learn less of Shershnev's past, but more of his present; he is a typical, dutiful officer -- serving the state, regardless of the master. The Russian government he works for differs little, at the level of his operations, from the previous Soviet one -- but it seems all the same to him. Like Kalitin, he merely blindly does what he's very good at -- morally reprehensible though it too is.
The thriller-part of Untraceable is decent, with quite good suspense, especially as Shershnev and his partner close in, but the professional Shershnev is understandably annoyed about how elaborate the plan they're supposed to follow has been made:

He was unhappy from the start with the travel plan imposed by the bosses and the cover story they provided. He would have done it fast, in one day. Fly in, complete the op, fly out. That's how the agents from the neighbors took out Vyrin.

What follows is a veritable comedy of errors, as a whole parade of small things go wrong, seemingly every damn step of the way. Shershnev is fairly unflappable, but it sure feels -- a bit too much ... -- like the gods and fate are conspiring against the mission at every turn. (And since the approach is so elaborate, there are a lot of turns.)
Another defector, who plays a prominent role as things begin to come to a head and then shares his own story -- fascinating in and of itself -- adds an interesting final twist to the whole novel with his role in everything that happened, both in setting things in motion at the start of all this and then seeing them through.
Untraceable is not so much an indictment of the Soviet and then its Russian-successor regimes -- though they are certainly presented as reprehensible, Lebedev takes it pretty much as an obvious given that nothing better can be expected of them -- as of the morally void citizens they produce(d). Both Kalitin and Shershnev are very good at what they do, and driven to do it -- but what they do is beyond contempt. Lebedev shows them as human in his rich portraits -- but human in the worst way, their essential humanity almost entirely carved out; it makes for a somber novel, reflecting a very dark worldview.
It all works quite well, though in its breadth -- especially Kalitin's backstory -- can feel a bit stretched thin, something compounded by the constant back and forth between the storylines of hunters and hunted. Once Shershnev starts closing in, the tensions certainly rises -- but Lebedev really does layer on those minor mishaps thick, to the extent that they distract from the story; all in all it makes for a slightly uneven mix of thriller and character-portraits
Lebedev nearly pulls it all off, but not quite; still, Untraceable is a solid thriller, with some decent thriller-twists, as well as a disturbing exposé of a morally bankrupt society and its progeny -- all the more disturbing because Lebedev sees the rot move seamlessly from Soviet to successor regimes, and its characters unable to take what second chances they are offered but rather continuing in their ugly set ways..

- M.A.Orthofer, 20 January 2021
  meadcl | Jan 21, 2021 |
Esta crítica foi escrita no âmbito dos Primeiros Críticos do LibraryThing.
Kalinin developed chemical weapons, untraceable poisons, for the Soviet Union until the new Russian Federation emerged from the post-Soviet chaos. He defected, and has spent the remaining years in hiding. Except now he’s been found, and an agent has been sent with his own poison to kill him.

Lebedev’s novel isn’t an action-packed thriller like that description would make you believe. Instead, it’s a study of these two men, what made them who you are, and the possibility of redemption for horrific sins. The language is beautiful in spots, though the story is ugly. I’ll be visiting this author again. ( )
  drneutron | Jan 16, 2021 |
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