The Nevsky Wall

About  -  The Story So Far …

As the story unfolds over the coming weeks and months, we’ll provide a synopsis of the plot and characters to keep you up-to-date. You might also want to consult the Character Profiles page. If you’re coming in mid-stream and don’t want to be spoiled, skip the synopsis and start from the beginning. You’ve been warned.

 

Summer

1. The story begins in the city of Leningrad on June 21, 1941. Two brothers, Alex and Viktor Rostov renew a tradition of meeting at the wall outside the Peter and Paul Fortress on the Neva River. Viktor relays the concerns of their mother. After the meeting at the wall, Alex stops by the Leningrad Newsreel Studio, where he works as a freelance cameraman, only to get a dressing-down by his boss. He joins Vera Mizina, his long-time girlfriend, for a much-delayed weekend at a friend’s country dacha on Lake Ladoga. It is the Eve of Ivan Kupala, a religious celebration that has pagan roots, with bonfires and forest spirits and the ritual cleansing of water.

2. Viktor returns home from his meeting at the wall with Alex. He lives in a communal apartment with his wife, Marina, and six year old son, Vasha, who dreams of becoming a pilot. They arranged that day to meet Viktor’s mother, Elena, for a picnic. Elena lives in the apartment where she and her husband, Anton, raised their two sons, but must now share it with two other families. She was once a music instructor at the prestigious Leningrad Conservatory, but now makes a meager living giving piano lessons, having lost her position several years before. At the picnic, Elena expresses her concern about Viktor’s new job with the fire brigade. She also worries about the news from Europe, where the German army seems invincible. Viktor mentions his father, and Elena brings the picnic to an abrupt end. That evening, Viktor meets his old army buddies, including Lev and Kirill, at the local beer hall. He misses the comaraderie of his old battalion, and we learn briefly of his experiences during the Karelian campaign the year before.

3. Alex and Vera wake at the dacha and go for a walk by the lakeshore. As they pass the boathouse, they encounter a man in a panic to get to the station. He mentions something incoherent about a German invasion. Alex believes that he and Vera should return to the city, and they argue. They meet the stranger at the station, and he confirms his story. On returning to the city, they hear the end of Molotov’s announcement of the invasion and war with Germany. Alex brings canned goods to his mother and is chastised by her. The next day, he goes to his other job at Lenfilm Studio, where a new production, Maxim’s Party, is set to begin. We’re introduced to Larissa Tarkova, Lenfilm’s leading actress, who has been Alex’s patron and sometime lover. She has lived a well-embroidered life. The production is shut down after only a half day’s filming due to the political crisis.

4. Vera ends her rounds at the Leningrad Children’s Hospital. She has a patient, a little girl named Zoya, whose serious condition defies diagnosis. Zoya’s mother, Nadia, is at her side, and she asks Vera to sit with her. They talk, and Vera relates the story of her own family. Her father, thwarted after the revolution in his dreams to become a doctor, had become embittered. When Vera was ten years old, her mother ran away with another man. Vera met Alex at school, and she came to see his parents as loving replacements for her own. Four years ago, Alex’s father was arrested by the secret police, sending his family into a spiral of grief and depression. Zoya rallies, but ultimately succumbs to her illness. Vera meets Alex the next morning and asks if he would ever consider starting a family.

5. Alex is assigned to document the building of fortifications near the Luga River. He catches a ride with two reporters. Rumors are spreading of heavy Soviet losses as the Germans advance. Fear and paranoia are rampant. The scene at the fortifications is staggering – thousands of civilians, mostly women, dig trenches in the summer heat. He gets permission to film from the commanding officer. He focuses on a group of four women and asks each for their story. One, ‘the woman in the yellow dress’, is there with her daughter and is clearly out of her element. She asks Alex to convey a message. Just then, enemy planes are seen on the horizon, and they preceed to strafe the trenches. The woman in the yellow dress is killed. Alex returns to the city with her daughter.

6. Viktor and his wife, Marina, struggle with the decision to have little Vasha evacuated from the city. The response of the authorities to the tightening blockade has been chaotic. Viktor must also deal with the changing faces of the fire brigade and his own guilt of not being in the front lines with the rest of his old army battalion. He and Marina decide to go ahead with the evacuation, but a last-minute bureaucratic mix-up at the station prevents it. On returning to the station days later, a ghastly scene unfolds. A train arrives, carrying hundreds of dead and wounded children. A teacher staggers onto the platform and tells the story of an enemy attack on the evacuation train. Vasha will stay in the city.

7. Alex arrives at the Lenfilm studios to meet Larissa. The studios are being packed up for the move to Alma-Ata. He and Larissa are driven to an unknown destination outside the city. She has misgivings about leaving, and tries again to convince him to join her. Their destination is a so-called ‘traveling show’, a mobile entertainment for the troops that combines cinema and live performers. Larissa lives for this sort of attention. She tells Alex about her days as a circus performer in the years after the Civil War. The newsreel follows, and he sees how the footage he shot at the Luga Line has been manipulated. Larissa’s performance is a triumph, and they return to the city. She leaves the next day.

8. Alex is summoned by Boris Gamerev, an influential name mentioned often by Larissa. Before leaving, she had warned Alex of this man and his intentions. Boris attempts to convince Alex to leave the city, and he hints at a deeper knowledge of Alex’s background, including a familiarity with his mother. Alex refuses the offer, and as he leaves, Boris says, “I know you, and I will continue to keep my eye on you.” Alex and Vera visit Elena in her apartment. When Alex mentions Boris’s name, his mother denies knowing him. An air-raid commences, and Alex rushes to the scene of a massive fire at the Badayev food warehouses. He runs into Viktor’s brigade and films them as they fight the fire. In the morning, the full impact of the loss is clear.

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