Moscow, 1939. In the recesses of the infamous Lubyanka prison is the writer Isaac Babel. The great author of Red Cavalry is spending his last days forbidden to write, his final works consigned to the archivist, Pavel Dubrov - who will ultimately be charged with destroying them. Pavel, a former schoolmaster and lover of literature, a reluctant minion in Stalin's system, makes a reckless decision: he will save the last stories of the writer he admires, whatever the cost. Pavel's daring in the face of a vast bureaucracy of evil invigorates a life that had slowly lost its meaning, even as it guarantees his almost certain undoing.