Synopses & Reviews
The writings in this anthology represent a highly personal and qualitative selection from both the "golden period" of Russian prose immediately following the 1917 revolution and the period from Stalin's death to the present—a time of "thaw," protest, and a new revival of art.
A number of the stories have been published previously, but about half are original translations. They vary in length from five to over a hundred pages. Each volume in the anthology contains an introductory essay by Krystyna Pomorska and brief biographical sketches of the authors.
Volume 1 presents fifteen stories by writers from a variety of schools who have marked differences in belief yet who share an unconventional approach to verbal materials. Most of these pieces were written during the 1920s, a period in which Russian prose style revealed the influence of experimental poetry and the cinema of such innovators as Eisenstein, Dovzhenko, and Dziga Vertov.
Social and political realities of the time are foreshadowed in a variety of styles, ranging from romanticism to swift ellipses, or montage. As Krystyna Pomorska points out, by the late 1920s Russian literature still felt the impact of the two major movements, Symbolism and Futurism, which, despite their many differences, together revealed the idea of pure literary values, "whether those of Symbolist aestheticism or those of strict Futurist craftsmanship."
The book opens with two of Pasternak's early works that are closely related in content and style to his poetry—mainly by metonymic principle, which links Pasternak with the experimental art of his time and which forms the basis for the construction of his late novel Doctor Zhivago. Stories by Boris Pilnyak and by Alexander Tarasov-Rodyonov focus on the impact of totalitarian ideology on the individual. In The Cave, Evgeny Zamyatin unfolds a tale in which civil warfare forces the people to a desperate existence on the periphery of life.
The book closes with a piece by Victor Nekrasov, a writer of the new era. Senka is derived from his own experience in the corps of engineers during World War II and marks the beginning of pacifist and "anti-heroic" themes that later appear in the Soviet film The Ballad of a Soldier and in both poetry and prose by Bulat Okudzhava, included in the second volume of this anthology.
"This two-volume anthology brings together some of the finest examples of prose published in Russia under the Soviet régime. In all, there are twenty-six selections from twenty different authors. The selections vary in length from five to over a hundred pages; all, however, are polished works which have been skillfully translated. Some will be familiar to all students of belles-lettres—e.g., selections by Boris Pasternak and Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Those less familiar with modern Russian prose will be delighted to find stories by Isaac Babel, Alexander Grin, Bulat Okudzhava, and a number of other major figures who are still relatively unknown in the West. Two sets of introductory essays and biographical notes by Pomorska, while unfortunately brief, help to acquaint the reader with the authors and their works."
"All stories in this anthology have been previously published in the Soviet Union. None was smuggled out, made available by the underground press; none can claim the exotic taste of forbidden fruit. Yet, to the delight of the reader, and to the disappointment of the sensation-hunters, they form a well-knit whole, make good reading and reflect the currents and undercurrents of Soviet life....
"The real tragedy lies not in the literary hacks produced in the Soviet Union over these fifty years (they are not represented in the reviewed work) but in the good literature which has not been produced. The anthology therefore leaves the reader richer in a profoundly beautiful experience and wiser, but it also arouses in him a sense of rebellion for being deprived of the works of art which were absorbed by the great silence."
—Boston Herald Traveler