In This Review

The Last Man in Russia: The Struggle to Save a Dying Nation
The Last Man in Russia: The Struggle to Save a Dying Nation
By Oliver Bullough
Basic Books, 2013, 296 pp.

The bizarre tale of Father Dmitri Dudko staggers the imagination. The dissident Soviet priest suffered eight and a half years in Stalin’s gulag, challenged KGB-allied church elders on his release, and became famous in the 1970s for his truth telling and humane ministrations, only to be broken by the regime’s prisons in the early 1980s, from which he emerged a crude Russian nationalist, anti-Semite, and fan of Stalin. Bullough does not so much focus on the mystery of his conversion as literally travel the path of his life, journeying to the far north, where Dudko labored in prison camps and where Bullough tests himself during an Arctic winter and a mosquito-infested summer. Bullough knits the priest’s tortured biography into a larger exposition of Russia’s steady degradation, driven by alcoholism and reflected in a growing demographic crisis. He appears torn over whether to limit his judgment of Dudko to the good he did for individual parishioners or to consider the reactionary lengths to which Dudko went as a form of justified resistance to Russia’s slide into a moral swamp.