Excerpt from Archangel by Robert Harris, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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by Robert Harris

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  • First Published:
    Dec 1998, 373 pages
    Jan 2000, 415 pages

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By the time the Russian delegates were added in, plus a few diplomatic observers, the press, and maybe fifty members of the public, the hall was impressively full. Kelso sank heavily into his place in the second row. Up on the platform, Professor Valentin Askenov of the Russian State Archives had launched into a long explana-tion of the microfilming of the Party records. O'Brian's cameraman walked backward down the central aisle, filming the audience. The sharp amplification of Askenov's sonorous voice seemed to pierce some painful chamber of Kelso's inner ear. Already, a kind of metallic, neon torpor had descended over the hall. The day stretched ahead. He covered his face with his hands.
Twenty-five million sheets . . . recited Askenov, twenty-five thousand reels of microfilm . . . seven million dollars . . .

Kelso slid his hands down his cheeks until his fingers converged and covered his mouth. Frauds! he wanted to shout. Liars! Why were they all just sitting here? They knew as well as he did that nine tenths of the best material was still locked up, and to see most of the rest required a bribe. He'd heard that the going rate for a captured Nazi file was a thousand dollars and a bottle of scotch.

He whispered to Adelman, "I'm getting out of here."
"You can't."
"Why not?"
"It's discourteous. Just sit there, for pete's sake, and pretend to be interested like everyone else." Adelman said all this out of the side of his mouth, without taking his eyes off the platform. Kelso stuck it out for another half minute.
"Tell them I'm ill."
"I shall not."
"Let me by, Frank. I'm going to be sick."
"Jesus . . ."

Adelman swung his legs to one side and pressed himself back in his seat. Hunched in a vain effort to make himself less conspicuous, Kelso stumbled over the feet of his colleagues, kicking in the process the elegant black shin of Ms. Velma Byrd.
"Aw, fuck, Kelso," said Velma.

Professor Askenov looked up from his notes and paused in mid-drone. Kelso was conscious of an amplified, humming silence and of a kind of collective movement in the audience, as if some great beast had turned in its field to watch his progress. This seemed to last a long time, for at least as long as it took him to walk to the back of the hall. Not until he had passed beneath the marble gaze of Lenin and into the deserted corridor did the droning begin again.

Kelso sat behind the bolted door of a bathroom cubicle on the ground floor of the former Institute of Marxism-Leninism and opened his canvas bag. Here were the tools of his trade: a yellow legal pad, pencils, an eraser, a small Swiss Army knife, a welcome pack from the organizers of the symposium, a dictionary, a street map of Moscow, his cassette recorder, and a Filofax that was a palimpsest of ancient numbers, lost contacts, old girlfriends, former lives.

There was something about the old man's story that was familiar to him, but he couldn't remember what it was. He picked up the cassette recorder, pressed rewind, let it spool back for a while, then pressed play. He held it to his ear and listened to the tinny ghost of Rapava's voice.

". . . Comrade Stalin's room was a plain man's room. You've got to say that for Stalin. He was always one of us . . ."
rewind. play.
". . . and here was an odd thing, boy: He had taken off his shiny new shoes and had them wedged under one fat arm . . ."
rewind. play.
". . . Know what I mean by Blizhny, boy? . . ."
". . . by Blizhny, boy? . . ."
". . . by Blizhny . . ."

Excerpted from Archangel by Robert Harris. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing.

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