This quotation makes more sense in the context of the book, but is moving all the same. An old Soviet veteran of the Siege of Leningrad (Volsky) is remembering tragedies of the past, including what happened to his partner, Mila. They had both been arrested in post-Stalin Russia for their work with educating disabled orphans.
“For new generations such things belonged to a legendary past…Like the archives from the times of the purges, which were now being opened up and which Volsky could consult in Moscow. The legal file on Mila was there, the now yellow pages from the interrogations she had undergone. From reading these depositions he learned that she had done everything possible to exculpate him, taking on herself the accusations levelled at them both. ‘So what saved me wasn’t that little officer’s nosebleed…’ he thought, and this sacrifice, which had saved his life, reminded him again that the evil of this world could be put to rout by the will of a single human being.”
(Andrei Makine, The Life of an Unknown Man, p 233, Sceptre, 2011)
This is an amazing and intensely moving book, targeted at the disillusioned, cynical and jaded among us. Read it!