After wondering if there was not a case of lack of depth around the characters in this novel it suddenly becomes clear that there is a unifying force – Russia itself.
It starts to work through the novel in a more direct way as Ivan enters a Moscow world that is changing rapidly under Gorbachev. He has been sliding into alcoholism after being widowed and has pawned nearly all his war medals. It gets so bad he is picked up by the drying out station in Moscow and proceedings start against him trying to strip him of his position as a hero of the Soviet Union.
Just as he considers ending it all a letter comes from his daughter inviting him to Moscow and he is dazzled by her wealth and the prospect that she might marry a rich man. But an old war veteran pulls the wool from over his eyes and reveals that his daughter is not much more than a whore sleeping with foreign businessmen to get their secrets.
You feel that not just Ivan and his daughter’s worlds are on a knife-edge but Russia as a whole doesn’t know where it is going. The might and terror of Stalin are missed and the watering down of everything people believed in that started with Khrushchev continues to provoke merriment but also fear among the people.