Goodnight! A Novel
Soviet Civilization: A Cultural History
‘Opavshie Listya’ V.V. Rozanova
Ivan le Simple: Paganisme, magie et religion du peuple russe
Dans I’ombre de Gogol
Promenades avec Pouchkine
Andre-la-Poisse (Kroshka Tsores)
So much change has taken place in the Soviet Union in the last twenty-five years, particularly in the last ten, that it is difficult now even to imagine the excitement produced by the arrest, trial, and sentencing of two young writers, Andrei Sinyavsky and Yuli Daniel, in February 1966. Their “crime” had been to smuggle out, and have printed in the West under the pseudonyms of Abram Tertz and Nikolay Arzhak, various works of fiction and, in the case of Tertz-Sinyavsky, an essay, On Socialist Realism. Both were sent to work camps, Sinyavsky for seven years (though he was released after six) and Daniel for five. A year after obtaining his freedom, Sinyavsky emigrated to France; already a noted scholar at the time of his arrest, he took up a post teaching Russian literature at the Sorbonne. Daniel remained in Russia, and died in 1988.
Their case was not tried in public, but the proceedings were taken down secretly by several people admitted to the courtroom and published both in Russian and English a year later. The English volume, On Trial, also includes most of the other documents relating to the case—the press campaign launched against the defendants in advance of the trial, the protests of many Soviet Russian intellectuals, and the worldwide wave of petitions provoked by the arrests. The reasons for this extraordinary outpouring would seem to have been twofold. Khrushchev’s horrifying revelations about Stalin had badly shaken the faith in Soviet infallibility; and the grounds for the indictment itself erased whatever line still existed between literature and political propaganda. No law in the Soviet Union prohibited the publication of works abroad, and the authorities were thus forced to attempt to prove that the content of the works could be used as evidence of anti-Soviet activity. Many writers had of course been sent to prison camp in the Soviet Union, but never on the basis of evidence taken solely from their work; the implications of such a charge called forth an unprecedented upsurge of public and international solidarity. Historians of the post-Stalin era date the rise of the Russian dissident movement, and the large-scale establishment of a samizdat press, from the indignation aroused by the Sinyavsky-Daniel trial.
Andrei Sinyavsky thus became universally known once his identity as the mysterious Abram Tertz was revealed; but Abram Tertz would not have been pursued so relentlessly, and finally unmasked, if he had not already become a world-famous figure. The appearance of On Socialist Realism, accompanied by a volume of stories (Fantastic Stories), two long novellas (The Trial Begins and Liubimov), and a series of aphorisms (Unguarded Thoughts), revealed a writer and critic of major stature, with a voice and sensibility unlike anything that had emerged from the Soviet Union in a very long time. Indeed, so sharply did these works stand out amid the drabness of standard Socialist Realist prose—involving, as Christopher Isherwood once remarked long ago, “the usual sex triangle between a girl with thick legs …
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.
Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.