Eduard Limonov and the Benefit of the Doubt
Two recent weighty tomes on Russian literature published in the West — Victor Terras’s Handbook of Russian Literature (Yale, 1985) and Wolfgang Kasack’s Entsiklopedicheskii slovar’ russkoi literatury s 1917 goda (London, 1988) — make no mention of Limonov. His first novel, Eto ia — Edichka, caused a scandal when it appeared in 1979. It is not the prime purpose of this article to add to the wide and at times intemperate debate about the book, but it may be as well to recall some of the reactions at the time: total condemnation, as in ‘pro-Soviet pornography’ (Gleizer, Russkaia mysl’), and ‘a hollow man, writhing in semi-Trotskyist ravings’ (Perel’man, Novoe russkoe slovo), or unbridled enthusiasm: ‘A novel-confession, splendid in its authenticity and warmth’ (Sapgir, Moscow).1 George Gibian offered a more middle-of-the road assessment: ‘“A good read”, albeit far below the literary qualities of an Orwell or a Genet’,2 whilst the Soviet response at the time was predictable enough in its condemnation: Limonov typified the depths to which émigré writers could sink.3 Since the advent of glasnost’, however, there has been more sympathetic coverage of Limonov in the Soviet press and even the prospect of publication of some of his works.4 In between the neglect by the worthy compilers and surveyors of Russian literature on the one hand, and the passion expressed by reviewers on the other, there have been a number of learned articles indicating the literary tradition to which Limonov is heir and going some way to explaining the furore that the novel aroused.
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