A Paradise Lost? Siberia and Its Writers, 1960 to 1990

  • David Gillespie


With the benefit of hindsight, and looking in from the outside on a Soviet Union that is in the 1990s disintegrating into various ethnic groupings, we can assert with reasonable confidence that the most important feature of Soviet literature in the post-Stalin period has been its drift from the center, from Moscow, and its inclination toward regionalism. Many writers in the late 1950s and early 1960s, especially those who were to form the “village prose” tendency, wrote about the places associated with their own rural childhood and youth. Moreover, this shift of focus was not just a geographical one. In her seminal work The Soviet Novel: History as Ritual, Katerina Clark observes that many writers in these years “began to recommend a journey ‘far away from Moscow’ not in place but in time,” and that they “wanted a revival of the earlier time represented by rural Russia… a garden world… of wholeness and tranquility.”1 In short, the village writers looked to the unspoiled places of their own rural childhood as a counterpoint to the increasingly depersonalized urban present. Not only did they make a pastoral of their own experience, but the places associated with it became idyllic, Eden-like. Furthermore, to many writers the myth of the past is also a time of stability and order, and strong central government, a clear contrast to the dissoluteness they see as characteristic of the present. So Vasilii Belov writes mainly about the village communities around Vologda oblast’ to the northwest of Moscow, Fedor Abramov’s works are largely set in the villages of Arkhangel’sk oblast’ in the far north of European Russia, Evgenii Nosov sets his stories in and around Kursk oblast’, and Vladimir Soloukhin’s early works are set in the countryside of Vladimir district.


Rural Childhood Village Community Paradise Lost Bratsk Reservoir Siberian Taiga 
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  1. 1.
    Katerina Clark, The Soviet Novel: History as Ritual, 2d ed. (London: University of Chicago Press, 1985), pp. 241–242.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    See, for example, the following: “Irkutsk s nami. Polemicheskie zametki,” Sovetskaia kul’tura, 14 September 1979: 6; “Vse moshchno i vol’no,” Sovetskaia kul’tura, 7 June 1983, p. 8; “Sibir’ bez romantiki,” Sibir’, no. 5 (1983): 106–128; “Moia i tvoia Sibir’,” in V. Rasputin, Povesti (Khabarovsk: Khabarovskoe knizhnoe izdatel’stvo, 1984), pp. 5–11; “Posluzhit’ otechestvu Sibir’iu,” Izvestiia, 3 November 1985, p. 3; “Sibir’, Sibir’…,” Nash sovremennik, no. 5 (1988), pp. 3–40; no. 8, pp. 3–54.Google Scholar
  3. 6.
    V. Rasputin, Izbrannye proizvedeniia v dvukh tomakh (Moscow: Molodaia gvardiia, 1984), vol. 1, pp. 72–73. “Den’gi dlia Morii” was first published in full in Sibirskie ogni, no. 9 (1967): 9–72.Google Scholar
  4. 11.
    Rasputin, indeed, equates the Russian national character with a pre-Christian state of innocence, transferring to it the qualities he sees in his native Siberians: “Happily or unhappily, we are still too dependent on elemental nature [rodnaia stikhiia]. We not only feel good in a field, in a forest or by a stream, we are part of them and we are their source…. In our relationship with the natural world around us we are still pagans” (V. Rasputin, “Zhila-byla skazka—zhivet li ona?” in I. Evseenko, Krik korostelia (Moscow: Molodaia gvardiia, 1982), pp. 318–319.Google Scholar
  5. 12.
    On Rasputin’s language, see the detailed discussion in Teresa Polowy, The Novellas of Valentin Rasputin: Genre, Language and Style (New York: Peter Lang, 1989), esp. pp. 118–135.Google Scholar
  6. 18.
    V. Astaf’ev, Sobranie sochinenii v chetyrekh tomakh (Moscow: Molodaia gvardiia, 1981), vol. 4, p. 59.Google Scholar
  7. 24.
    L. Borodin, God chuda i pechali (1974); Tret’ ia pravda (1981); Rasstavanie (1984): all published in Frankfurt by Possev.Google Scholar

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© Galya Diment and Yuri Slezkine 1993

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  • David Gillespie

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