Petrograd, 1916 – Turgenovsky is a second-rate writer whose literary aspirations far outweigh his talents. When arrested with student friends, he is drawn into revolutionary circles more through chance than conviction, having an unwitting impact on the earth-shattering events taking place around him.
During the Civil War, he denounces another writer, steals his manuscript, and rises to the summit of Soviet society, eventually coming under Stalin’s patronage. The future Party leader realizes how useful this ambitious young man could be, and writes articles under his name, criticizing anyone opposed to his own political views.
Scarred by a brutal upbringing and an unrequited passion for his half-sister, Turgenovsky never lets anybody get too close. He has lovers and colleagues arrested if they threaten to expose him as a fraud. In the sixties, another version of the stolen novel surfaces and Turgenovsky battles to keep his reputation intact, writers like Solzhenitsyn question his true credentials, but with much connivance he manages to distance himself from such claims, and is eventually awarded the Nobel Prize.
This novel is inspired by allegations levelled at Mikhail Sholokhov regarding the true authorship of And Quiet Flows the Don, satirizing the delusional foundations of a totalitarian regime. It is about a mediocre man–like so many others–who flourishes in a society which claims to eradicate inequality, but only succeeds in propagating it to new, untold heights.