A HISTORY OF POST-WAR SOVIET WRITING: The Literature of Moral Opposition by Grigori Svirski
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A HISTORY OF POST-WAR SOVIET WRITING: The Literature of Moral Opposition

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Svirski, a Moscow litterateur who emigrated to the West in 1972, has provided not so much an objective history of post-WW II writing as a passel of very immediate, passionate, and intimately involved essays on the subject. He knows and tells, for instance, precisely who the ""hatchet-men"" were and are in Russian letters: Fadeyev, Surkov, Fedin, Nikulin (who, Svirski contends, betrayed Babel). More positively, he lists (along with plot summaries and political analyses) the authors and books that have kept the ""secret freedom"" which Pushkin said Russian literature would always maintain. We in the US are familiar with Mandelstam, Akhmatova, Babel, Pasternak, Solzhenitsyn; but the postwar work of Emmanuail Kazekevich, Viktor Nekrasov, and V. Didintsev will likely come as new. The role of Russian science-fiction, officially encouraged in the mid-Sixties (""The idea was to distract the reader from Solzhenitsyn's themes""), was then subtly turned around by the allegorical Strugatsky brothers. Troubadours such as Okudzhava and Galich stepped in to save poetry after the posturings of Yevtushenko and Voznezensky, and their all-too-happy and quick capitulation to official lines. Of particular interest is Svirski's discussion of the peasant tradition (""misery of the countryside"") in the work of such fiction writers as Yashin, Abramov, Shushkin, Belov--and his fascinating reading of early Babel (cossacks and bandits as ""knights of honor"" compared to Chekists) and late (the ""peasant"" stories Babel was working on--dangerously--when Stalin snatched him up). The book is too rambling and scattershot to qualify fully as a scholarly study; like Solzhenitsyn's The Oak and the Calf, it uses personal anecdote as synecdoche for a whole literary period. Yet it's a good guide nevertheless--free to jab, expose, opine, and convey the flavor as it will. The bibliography, of mentioned works that have been translated into English, is excellent. The giants of current Russian literature--Solzhenitsyn, Shalamov (Kolyma Tales), Vladimov (Faithful Ruslan), Zinoviev (The Yawning Heights)--are here, as well as the smaller subversives who keep Saltykov-Schedrin's remark of the 1860s, that ""Russian literature arose as a result of lack of vigilance on the part of the authorities,"" ever true.

Pub Date: Aug. 15th, 1981
Publisher: Ardis