Aleshin, Samuil Iosifovich.
Pseudonym for Samuil Kotlyar. Born 21 July 1913 in Zambrovo, Poland. His father was a doctor, and his mother was a teacher. In 1935 he graduated from the Red Army Military Academy of Motorization and Mechanization and he began work in a design bureau.
During the Great Patriotic War he served as a tank engineer and fought on the Stalingrad front. During breaks between battles he completed his first play, Mephistopheles (Mefistofel', 1942, published 1963). In this work, a traditional devil from the German middle ages is made human when he experiences earthly love.
Between 1941 and 1946 Aleshin penned numerous humorous stories for the magazines Krokodil and Ogonyok.
He continued his technical work in the army, successfully defending his dissertation in 1946.
After demobilization in 1952, Aleshin worked in an auto and tractor research institute.
Aleshin's first published play was The Director (Direktor), which was staged in 1950 at the Moscow Drama Theatre. An "industrial" drama, common at the time, this work, however, managed to stress the psychological revelations of the main character in extreme work and family situations.
When the Thaw in Soviet literature came in the mid-1950s, Aleshin and other writers saw it not just as a chance to take potshots at bureaucrats, laziness, inefficiency, etc. For them, it was also a chance for love. By the end of the Stalin period, the free-love prescriptions of Kollontai had been replaced by a rigid and conservative standard of morality and family values. Soviet literature of the later Stalin period barely touched upon love, and when it did so, love was always secondary to the characters' social and economic duties. (Such an unrealistic portrayal was attacked by Vladimir Pomorantsev in his Thaw-inducing essay On Sincerity in Literature<. Heroes in pre-Thaw literature were always unblemished in their personal, family life. Extramarital and illicit relations were only seldom presented, and when they were depictied, they were universally condemned as an abomination. So it was a stunning departure in 1956 when Samuil Aleshin presented his play Alone (Odna). In this work, an extramarital affair breaks up two marriages. While the abandoned wife is presented sympathetically, the adulterers are not portrayed as evil monsters. Rather, they are intelligent, honest, hard- working, socially productive people who just happened to have fallen in love with one another. They are shown agonizing over this love. They try to quash it, knowing what pain it brings to their guiltless spouses. They wrestle with questions such as: Is it right to live a lie in order to preserve social propriety? Is it right to tell the truth when it only brings pain to the blameless? The Party--which in pre-Thaw literature was always shown as quick to rush to the defense of family order--tries to intervene, advising the male adulterer (Sergei) to at least keep the affair quiet. Sergei, however, decides that he must be truthful, saying:
"The Party does not need me to lie. The Party needs me to be honest, to work honestly, to have a family life based on love....We have only one life, and he who lies deceives both himself and the Party".
Alone does not have a happy ending. It is not at all clear that the lovers will succeed in their new marriage. Sergei's daughter is crushed by the break-up and considers him "dead". Mariya, the abandonded wife, feels the urge to hang herself or to descend into drunkenness; however, with much internal struggle, she manages to carry on with her life. The author makes it clear that Mariya bares no shame and must be respected as a worthy, valuable individual. But Aleshin also presents the adulterers as decent, complex people, who deserve a chance at happiness.
Alone makes the point that life is sometimes messy, even among good people, and that it is very difficult--even not at all necessary--for the Party or anyone else to place blame in these personal situations. The collective has no business interfering in individual, personal affairs. Condemnations based on schemes, plans, or generalizations are unneeded and inappropriate. As one character in Alone points out, science has taught us that "In life, in man, everything is individual."
In Aleshin's 1959 play Everything Is Left For People (Vsyo ostaetsya liudyam), a physicist, struck with a fatal disease in the prime of his life, struggles to complete his scientific work in the little time he has remaining. This play also offered a portrayal of a priest as an intelligent, thoughtful person--shocking for its time.
Hospital Ward (Palata, 1962), is about a writer on the eve of a heart operation. To Each His Own (Kazhdomy svoe, 1965) tells of a soldier in German captivity who chooses death over treason. Staircase (Lestnitsa, 1976) presents a dramatic conflict between the talented and the giftless in the field of science.
Between 1967 and 1977, Aleshin penned Diplomat (Diplomat), a "novella" in dialogue, about M.M. Litvinov's diplomatic mission in 1919-1920 concerning a prisoner exchange.
Aleshin addressed literary themes in several works: the drama Gogol (Part 1, 1944; Part 2, 1950); a parody of the Don Juan theme, At That Time in Seville (Togda v Sevile, 1948); a treatment of Shakespeare, Man From Stratford (Chelovek uz Stratforda, 1954; and a play about Mikhail Bulgakov, Not All of Me Shall Die (Ves' ya ne umru, 1989).
Some of Aleshin's most popular works are the comedies Her Exellency (Eyo prevoskhoditel'stvo, 1979) and The Eighteenth Camel (Vosemhadtsatiy verbliud, 1983) as well as the psychological mystery Investigation Has Shown.... (Sledstviye pokazalo, 1984)
In 1991, with the hounds of capitalist avarice baying at the doors of the Soviet Union and some Party elite struggling to hold onto their last scraps of privilege, Aleshin produced Hearth (Ochag), a play presenting unselfish love as a vital support and counterweight to the egotism of ambition and the pragmatism of material success.
Other works by Samuil Aleshin include Main Role (Glavnaya rol', 1964); The Other (Drugaya, 1968); A Civil Affair (Grazhdanskoye delo, 1974; If (Esli, 1975); and Theme and Variations (Tema s variatsiyami, 1979).