Siberia as Volia: Vasilii Shukshin’s Search for Freedom

  • John Givens


Although Soviet filmmaker and writer Vasilii Makarovich Shukshin (1929–1974) was born in the Altai region of western Siberia and set most of his stories and shot three of his films there, he is generally not known as a Siberian writer. Like fellow Siberian authors Viktor Astaf’ev and Valentin Rasputin, Shukshin is often (though largely erroneously) associated with the “village prose” movement in Soviet literature, which sought to depict life in the Soviet countryside as a last repository of traditional values and culture. Unlike the works of Astaf’ev and Rasputin, however, Shukshin’s seems to be more occupied with the “landscape of the human soul” than the landscape of Siberia.2 However, as the investigation that follows will show, three myths of Siberia can be readily identified in Shukshin’s works, myths that inform in an essential way both Shukshin’s writing and his biography. They include Siberia as a place of childhood innocence; Siberia as a pastoral, uncorrupted landscape, set in opposition to the city; and Siberia as a place of unrestricted space and complete individual freedom.


Human Soul Altai Region Childhood Innocence Male Protagonist Vast Land 
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  1. 6.
    This and other stories discussed in this chapter can be found in Vasilii Shukshin, Sobranie sochinenii, 3 vols. (Moscow: Molodaia gvardiia, 1984).Google Scholar
  2. 14.
    Shukshin, interview with Spas Popov, “Izbiraiu literaturu,” Literaturnoe obozrenie 5 (1981): 111.Google Scholar
  3. 15.
    Shukshin acknowledged in the interview that it would take at least three to four more years to realize his lifelong dream of filming his movie on Sten’ka Razin, the Don leader of a peasant rebellion against Tsar Aleksei’s boyars in 1670. (For more on the importance of this project to Shukshin’s professional film and writing career, see Diane Nemec Ignashev, “The Art of Vasilij Šukšin: Volja Through Song,” Slavic and East European Journal 32 [Summer 1988]: 415–427. See especially p. 416.) Shukshin also admitted that it would be hard to educate his two young daughters in Srostki and that his wife, Lidiia Fedoseeva-Shukshina, would have to give up her acting career as well.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 18.
    Vasilii Shukshin, “Teplyi sneg: pis’ma V.M. Shukshina rodnym,” Sibirskie ogni 7 (1977): 181.Google Scholar
  5. 29.
    Shukshin, untitled introduction to Evgenii Popov’s “Rasskazy,” Novyi mir 4 (1976): 164. Shukshin uses the Russian word “vol’no,” which I have translated here as “completely free.” This kind of freedom will be discussed at greater length below.Google Scholar
  6. 35.
    See the entry for “volia” in Maks Fasmer, Etimologicheskii slovar’ russkogo iazyka (Moscow: Progress, 1986), vol. 1, pp. 347–348.Google Scholar
  7. 40.
    See Mikhail Geller, “Vasilii Shukshin v poiskakh voli,” Vestnik russkogo khristianskogo dvizheniia 120 (1977): 159–182; andGoogle Scholar
  8. Geoffrey Hosking, “Vasily Shukshin,” in Geoffrey Hosking, Beyond Socialist Realism: Soviet Fiction Since Ivan Denisovich (London: Grenada, 1980), p. 179.Google Scholar

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© Galya Diment and Yuri Slezkine 1993

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  • John Givens

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