Imagine a life devoted to navigating a labyrinth of doublespeak. Such is the existence of one
young man, Sasha Parsky, in Paul M. Levitt’s historical novel, The Denouncer. Set under the
rule of Stalin, the novel examines the mental, physical, and spiritual costs of leading a double
When two members of the OGPU (secret police) come to the Parsky farm to arrest his elderly
parents, denounced as “exploiters and parasites,” Sasha becomes enraged and kills the men.
Both he and his parents are stunned, looking to one another to explain how “He who had never
hurt another person, who had never caused his parents a moment’s trouble from his birth in 1915
to this moment in 1935, had become a monster.” Thus is the crux of the novel—the duality of
monster and innocent inside us all.
While he eludes an official conviction, Sasha remains the prime suspect for the murders. At
the behest of Major Filatov, chief of the local secret police, he is to offer his condolences to the
family members of the deceased, and he is appointed to the head of a secondary school in order
to spy on the former director. In his supervisory role, Sasha becomes both advisor and adversary,
implementing progressive policies, which ultimately lead to his condemnation. It becomes clear
the spy is spied on, and anyone and everyone in this small village may well function as a double
or even triple agent. There is no stronger instinct than survival, and the characters in this novel,
both men and women, and to some extent even the children, assume any role necessary to delay
Sasha’s story is dark, yet there are moments of beauty and pleasure in his world—a world in
which the lines of loyalty, trust, and madness are intertwined. In a scene evocative of The Last
Supper, Major Filatov intimates, “everyone among them had sold his soul, in fact, many times
over, and that there is no witness so dreadful, no accuser so terrible, as conscience.” For these
men and women, there is no true freedom because they will never escape the persecution they
inflict on themselves. They have forfeited their very spirits, and they will pay accordingly.
As to the end, The Denouncer comes to its natural close. Though somewhat bleak and
disheartening, there is no alternative. The curtain is drawn on each character’s performance as all
were actors on a revolving stage. Nevertheless, I found myself captivated by and appreciative of
the somber aesthetic inherent in the final scenes.
Do not be intimated by a lack of knowledge of Stalin or his regime. Although I will admit
to having known little of the Soviet society during this period, Levitt’s writing is fluid and
immersing and Sasha’s story engaging and eerily relevant. At the forefront of the novel are the
issues of power, politics, and patriotism: concepts we grapple with on a daily basis. Levitt leaves
us to question our choices, our actions, and our world. Sasha claims, “In this country, trust is
impossible.” Are we to believe the same? It’s certainly difficult not to, isn’t it?
Levitt, Paul M. The Denouncer. Taylor Trade Publishing, 2014.