At times funny, at times grim, Kalfus's novel about the birth of propaganda in the Soviet state has great moments, particularly in the third section. I found the final chapters particularly well down, especially when Kalfus abandons conventional sentence structure to describe Lenin's stroke.
The beginning is a bit uneven, as the novel tries to find the protagonist. Considering most of the novel is about Grishbin/Astapov, the fact that it opens with 3 men on a train who seem to have equal importance is a bit misleading. I realize that Astapov's relationship to those three men is crucial. Also, I feel Stalin and Lenin are not fully developed, nor is the true complexity of Stalin's rise to power given a clear account. Still, the novel does not try to be a recounting of the revolution or the introduction of the worst murderer of the 20th century -- it's all about the role of the image and the death of the word. In that case, Kalfus has done some good things.