The very titles of the two novels by Vladimir Sharov currently available in English, Before and During and The Rehearsals, speak to the Russian author’s career-long concern with questions of time. Indeed Sharov, who passed away earlier this year at the age of sixty-six, was trained as a historian. But even a quick glance at his work reveals that he is no traditional historical novelist. What Sharov pioneered in the early 1990s, as Russia underwent yet another of its periodic upheavals, was a brand of fiction that projected the nation’s past through a fantastical lens, not in order to distort it but in order to see it clearly. No other lens, Sharov’s writings suggest, could bring into focus a past so dark. He published eight novels between 1991 and 2013, most of which dealt with events, both real and imagined, surrounding the Bolshevik Revolution and its aftermath. The last of these, Return to Egypt, won the Russian Booker Prize in 2014.
Although official recognition came late, Sharov’s method has proved influential with younger writers, and as Oliver Ready, Sharov’s translator, notes in his eloquent foreword to The Rehearsals, this, the author’s second novel, ‘is the one most often referred to in Russia as a modern classic’. Written in the