Literary roundup: 1960s Soviet Union finally opening up

Manuscripts don’t burn, but they can sure be kept locked away a long time. In February 1961, KGB agents came to Vasily Grossman’s apartment and confiscated the typescript, manuscript and virtually everything connected to the novel Life and Fate completed the previous year. Now, 52 years later and a mere 20 or so years after the end of the Soviet Union the manuscript has been made available for study by the Federal Security Service. Apparently, it being 2013 and all, the anti-Stalinist opinions of the book were deemed safe for viewing.

Grossman died without the slightest hope of the book ever being published, though a copy was smuggled out, leading to its publication in 1980. Now that the full manuscript has been released there will be a new edition and, presumably, a new or revised translation.

Shadowing Dostoevsky

At Russia Beyond The Headlines last month there was an article about the St. Petersburg streets where Dostoevsky placed Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment. This includes all the various apartments – Raskolnikov’s, the pawnbroker Alyona Ivanovna’s, Sonya’s. When I was in St. Petersburg I took a Dostoevsky walk and saw all these sites but maybe most memorable for me was the fact that among the three or four people accompanying us was the writer William T. Vollmann. At one point he turned to me and asked, “Do you know what my favorite Dostoevsky novel is?” (I didn’t). “The Idiot. And do you know why?” (Again, I shook my head). “Because I am one.”

Titles and tattered cloaks

And still more Russian literature at Words Without Borders, where translator Marian Schwartz provides a very entertaining explanation as to why she titled a story collection by Nina Berberova The Tattered Cloak.

Photo – Vasily Grossman by the Brandenburg Gate, World War II

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2 Comments on “Literary roundup: 1960s Soviet Union finally opening up”

  1. 07/08/2013 at 8:45 pm #

    I like that Vollmann anecdote, fits well with my image of him.

    • 07/08/2013 at 8:48 pm #

      There were a few other Vollmann anecdotes from that summer (he was a writer in residence there) but not for publication. Funny and unusual guy, to say the least.

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