Coming Up For Air

Dissonant Voices in Soviet Literature

edited by Patricia Blake, edited by Max Hayward
Pantheon, 308 pp., $5.95

Pages from Tarusa: New Voices in Russian Writing

edited by Andrew Field
Little, Brown, 367 pp., $6.75

The New Writing in Russia

translated with an Introduction by Thomas P. Whitney
University of Michigan, 412 pp., $6.95

Half-way to the Moon: New Writing from Russia

edited by Patricia Blake, edited by Max Hayward
Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 280 pp., $5.95

Soviet Literature in the Sixties

edited by Max Hayward, edited by Edward L. Crowley
Praeger, 221 pp., $4.95

On the 18th of February of this year, a twenty-four-year-old Russian poet, Josif Brodsky, was brought to trial in Leningrad. His work is little known, but by some of the most reliable judges of Russian literature it is considered exceptionally fine. The charge against him was social uselessness; he had no regular employment, was not connected with any institution, was, in short, a parasite:

Judge: Answer why you have not worked.

Brodsky: I have worked. I have written poems.

Judge: We are not interested in that. We are interested in which institution you have been connected with.

And in spite of a petition on his behalf signed by such artists as Anna Akhmatova, Korney Chukovsky, Dmitry Shostakovich, and Samuel Marshak, Brodsky was sentenced to five years at forced labor in Siberia. His case has aroused much interest abroad; a part of the stenographic report of the proceedings against him, from which the above quotation is taken, was published in Die Zeit of Hamburg; and it is now rumored that he has been released. We are sure to hear more about this case, which occurred after all the books here under review had already been published or had gone to press.

The point is that so long as such trials and condemnations can occur, or so long as Khrushchev can recommend, as he did in March of 1962, that a well-known writer—it was Victor Nekrasov in this instance—be expelled from the Party because of his views on the Russian cinema and the architecture of the United States; so long as the popular young poet Evtushenko and the gifted Voznesensky can be forced to apologize for saying what they think and made to promise to mend their ways; so long as editors of important literary journals can be replaced at will by state officials, and some of the best writing in the country, such as Pages from Tarusa, can be withdrawn from the market even after publication; so long as this kind of thing can go on, all is not well with Russian literature. “Innumerable little Stalins,” says Peter Benno in Soviet Literature in the Sixties, “are still sitting in almost every Soviet administration.” And yet, as he himself admits, “a self-aware liberal community now for the first time exists in Soviet society,” or as Patricia Blake puts it in her eloquent Introduction to Half-way to the Moon, “the most important change that has taken place on the Russian literary scene since Stalin is that the poets, the prose writers, and the playwrights—together with their public—have gradually ceased to suffer from the old, fearful sense of isolation.”

Whether this new experience of partnership or concord has brought about, or is likely to produce, a literary Renaissance is a matter of debate. Are the emerging writers, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Yuri Kazakov, Yuri Nagibin, Vladimir Tendryakov, Vasily Aksyonov, Andrei Voznesensky, Evgeni Evtushenko to be classed among the best, or even the very good, writers of the West or with those of …

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