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The Good Rasputin

In response to:

Writing in the Shadow of the Monolith from the February 19, 1976 issue

To the Editors:

Carl Proffer’s report on the Russian literary scene [NYR, February 19] shows that he still has some way to go before attaining complete mastery of the Sheila Graham style; but that he’ll eventually make it, there is no doubt. Meantime, however, he has an even greater achievement to his credit. For I can think of no one else who could have managed, after all that reading topped off by a visit to Russia, to write a survey of the literary scene there that completely ignores one of the finest Russian prose writers in many a decade: Valentin Rasputin. Rasputin’s name appears neither in Proffer’s list of the “most highly regarded prose writers who still live and publish in the Soviet Union” nor in his “Selected Bibliography.” But I’ll bet my bottom dollar that, if polled, most of the writers on either list would name Rasputin as one of the two or three best prosateurs writing in Russia today. (Is this the price Rasputin must pay for staying at home in Siberia away from the Moscow cocktail circuit? Probably not, because he gets talked about a lot—by people Proffer apparently doesn’t listen to)….

Guy Daniels

New York City

Carl Proffer replies:

I welcome the chance to atone for my sins of omission, first by assuring your readers that Rasputin is not an invention of Mr. Daniels. He is a good writer with a few enthusiastic supporters—but Mr. Daniels would lose his bottom dollar, because I have repeatedly “polled” more than half of the writers listed in the Selected Bibliography and none of them placed Rasputin as high as Mr. Daniels would like. Of course, they may be wrong, and in his irritated way Mr. Daniels does point out a real danger: a traveler relying on the opinions of too small a group. One always has to accept such testimonials critically. But part of my task in the survey was to describe the Russian scene, and Russian opinions, and I did that as fairly as I could. If space had allowed, I would have said more about the writers I was able to include, and I would have added a number of others, among them: Okudzhava, Abramov, Bitov, Tendryakov, Vakhtin, Vampilov, Semin, Mozhaev, Vladimov, Davydov, Ilina, Volodin, Kuzminsky, Chichibabin—and Rasputin. All are capable and interesting writers who deserve to be discussed and translated into English.

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