Synopses & Reviews
How was it possible that an entire country could live in mute fear? Why did Soviet intellectuals denounce each other and conspire with the authorities to brainwash ordinary people? Why did submarines sink and nuclear power stations explode in the Soviet Union? This collection contains stories by leading Russian writers Ludmila Petrushevskaya, Boris Yampolsky, Alexander Pokrovsky, Vladimir Kuzemko, Ilya Zverev. They attempt to explain the idiosyncrasies of Russian society by bringing to life experiences such as the vicious competition over private apartments, the ever-present threat of the GULAG, the precarious world of the Soviet atomic submarine, the Chernobyl disaster and its consequences, and the bizarre justice of the Soviet legal system.
This collection answers the questions most often asked by people in the West about the incomprehensible ways of the artificial and inhuman Soviet system: How was it possible that an entire country could live in mute fear? Why did Soviet intellectuals denounce each other and conspire with the authorities to brainwash ordinary people?
About the Author
Ilya Zverev (1926-1966) was the pen name of Izold Judovich Zamdberg who had to change his Jewish name for a Russian-sounding one, something that many people did in the times of state-supported anti-Semitism. He made a name for himself as a writer during the first political thaw: in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Yet he was very much a man of his times and most of his stories will hardly appeal to the modern reader. However, some of them are striking evidence by a contemporary witness who managed to describe his dangerous times with the maximum veracity with which he could get away. One of his best stories, "Sedov's Defence" is based on real facts and remains both accessible and striking to this day. In the early 1990s it was made into a prize-winning film of the same name.
Boris Yampolsky (1912-1972) was a prolific novelist and journalist in the late 1950s and 1960s, but his major works, including his magnum opus, the novel Rezhimnaya Ulitsa (see the abridged version of the novel in Glas 9: The Scared Generation), were banned for publication. Yampolsky's hero is not surprised to find himself being followed and thus doomed to imminent arrest. He saw it happen to other, equally innocent people, each of whom was sure his own case was a mistake and that the others in his position really were "enemies of the people". In the Stalin era of witch-hunts and political intolerance, he is paralysed by uncontrollable fear. Yet at some point his hopelessness produces an inner freedom that gives the hunted man the strength to live on.
Lev Rubinstein (b.1947) is famous for his inimitable style as a poet and social commentary essayist. As a founder and leader of Moscow Conceptualism, Rubinstein turned international Conceptualism of the 1960s and 1970s into a major Russian literary movement. Needless to say, his unorthodox writings were not acceptable for the official press, but circulated widely in samizdat. (See Here I Am: Performance Poems, by Lev Rubinstein, translated by Joanne Turnbull, Glas 27.)
Alexander Pokrovsky's satirical stories about the trials and trivialities of life on an atomic submarine are both funny and frightening. Based on the author's 15 years as an officer in the navy, they convince you of the sorry state of these underwater vehicles that sometimes turn into common graves. Pokrovsky, born in 1952, began writing to relieve the boredom of night watches. He has published a number of widely acclaimed books, based on naval experiences which he "can't get out of his system".