With the flow of books around the high-water mark today, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the reader to follow any particular thematic current, for each one is lost from sight in the whole. This has given added importance to the concentration of thematically related works in "series" and "libraries". One of the most successful ventures in this line over recent years has been the 20-volume "Library of Siberian Novels", published over a period of four years in Novosibirsk.
LIBRARY OF SIBERIAN NOVELSReviewed by
The main value of this "Library", I believe, is the fact that it includes not only the classics but also others who were among the founding fathers of Soviet literature, Siberian writers whose names have not received wide recognition. This affords an opportunity for a just evaluation of literary works of the past and enriches the modern reader's idea of Soviet literature, having revealed to him new names and once again added to the list of current reading interesting and noteworthy novels of their time.
The title of this series is a little artificial, since there always has been only one Russian literature.
Gorky considered the unity of Russian literature to be axiomatic. Before the revolution, he said, it was mainly Central Russia that was reflected in Russian literature, while the Urals, the Volga, and Siberia remained virtually outside the old literature's field of vision. The new Soviet literature began by firmly wiping out "frontier posts" in literary geography. This was accomplished by young writers who in the recent past had been Red Army men, partisans, workers and peasants, who had come to literature from all corners of the land.
"Soviet literature in Siberia was born under heavy fire in battles with Kolchak troops and interventionists," says the foreword to the first volume, Efim Permitin's Mountain Eagles.
If we continue the excursion back into the remoteness of time, the emergence of literature in Siberia was associated with the opening up of that area by Russians. In the third volume of a monumental edition entitled The History of Siberia, a great deal of space is devoted to research into the question of the tremendous influence exercised by the "world of outcasts"--the political exiles--on all aspects of Siberian life. They made an unsurpassed contribution to the economic opening up of the area and even more to the development here of enlightenment, science, and culture. Consequently it is clear that the culture of Siberia, in general, and its literature in particular, is not some separate, closed entity. It is part of the general Russian culture.
The ideological and thematic unity of Siberian writers with all Soviet Russian literature, however, does not mean that they are entirely without a specific, original character of their own. They are just as specific as Siberia itself is specific within the framework of all Russia.
It is natural to ask what exactly this originality consist of, how is it displayed, what it means in an actual work. It is not, of course, a matter of local place names, does not depend upon the author's recognition of the fact that his work is a portrayal of the everlasting problem of "man and nature", with the rigorous conditions of the taiga providing the example. Writing about the taiga, the mighty rivers, and the breathtakingly wide open spaces does not necessarily mean creating a work about Siberia. One must first of all create personae with moral and social substance, the "Siberian" version of the Russian character.
Such a "version" is artistically developed, for example, in Barbin Cycle by Sergei Sartakov, which consists of three stories: Mountain Breeze, Don't Give the Queen Away, and Slow Gavotte. Kostya Barbin, the river sailor who is the hero of this trilogy, is shown in the course of his maturing as man and citizen, and in each story he is sen "a stage higher" in his moral and spiritual development.
These stories of Sartakov's have become an organic part of our literature and are well established on the reading list of our contemporary. In 1970, Sartakov's Barbin Cycle was awarded a State Prize of the USSR.
When Sartakov was asked whether there were real-life prototypes of the heroes, he replied:I have not taken any of the characters specifically from life. For me, the chief prototype is Time. Plus all the material I have amassed over the years, plus my own world outlook. There is a great deal contained in the material I have collected--my life on the Far Eastern border in the thirties, my frequent trips around the country, my life in Siberia. I repeat: Time is the most important prototype.... As regards plot, I always try to avoid trying up all the ends too neatly at the conclusion of each book. My task is to make the reader think for himself, to follow through the idea of the book and continue the story of its characters....Another book in the same "Library", Sartakov's novel The Philosopher's Stone, is a vehicle for meditations on the heroic past of the Soviet people. Understood in the light of the experience of our contemporaries, this past helps our advance into the future. The novel is very much of the people in its perception of the world, and this finds interesting reflection, conveying a social message, in the thoughts of the characters and the author about human dignity, justice, duty and love, and the place of man on earth.
None of these moral concepts is an ossified phenomenon, laid down once and for all and preserved without change by succeeding generations.
The author shows that in the process of struggle for the new social order, for land, for freedom, in the flames of the Civil War, these concepts underwent a qualitative change, were resmelted and enriched, emerging in the clear-cut contours of Soviet characters.
One of these fascinating portraits in our literature, that of Grandpa Fishka (Finogen Techenin) in the novel The Strogovs, was created by Georgi Markov. The author paints a picture of the working man typical of Siberia. It was from folk such as this, from such "grandpas", that pure, honest, great-hearted people like Matvei and Anna in The Strogovs came to the revolution.
Another Siberian writer, Vil Lipatov, began to be published at the beginning of the 1960s, his first book being Deep Stream. He immediately attracted attention, because of his fresh views on the world and because of his portrayals of our contemporaries. What was attractive in these characters was their early maturity and the fact that they really thought and acted like workers. But the principal feature of Vil Lapatov's heroes is that for them work is something they feel to be a natural requirement. it was on this "wave", in full accord with the traditions of our literature, that the writer created the colorful figure of Pronchatov, the director, another character whose work is in the Siberian taiga. For him the taiga, the virgin forest, is not a cathedral but a workshop and he, a man, is a worker in it.
During the same period, Agnia Kuznetsova has been writing stories about a young fellow Siberian--Your Home and A Komsomol's Word of Honor. In his novel Natasha Burskova, Gavriil Kungurov writes about young specialists just entering life and by their devoted work winning their right to be called true Soviet citizens.
The efforts of young people to find their moral bearings as they come to maturity constitute a central feature of the stories The Girl and the Rowan and Meeting with a Miracle by Ilya Lavrov, and also We Grew Up by Vadim Ivanov. These and many other works by Siberian writers about the life of our contemporaries were material literary contributions to the arguments and discussions in recent years about the young hero of our literature.
When we concern ourselves with the specific features of life in Siberia, we must not forget so important a factor as the composition of its population.
From time immemorial Siberia has been inhabited by a multitude of numerically small nationalities, which have attracted the attention not only of explorers and businessmen but also that of Russian writers, the progressive Russian intelligentsia. In their works, Chekhov and Korolenko spoke with indignation and pain of the way these nationalities were oppressed and the cheerless burden of their lives.
Soviet writers, on quite another basis, and in the light of the revolutionary transformations that have taken place there, have also turned to the life of these peoples who have been born to new life by the revolution. In doing so they have developed the finest humanist traditions of the classics.
Wide acclaim has been accorded such novels ad The Last of the Udeghe by Aleksandr Fadeev, Alitet Goes to the Hills by Tikhon Semushkin, Great Nomad Camp, by Afanasi Koptelov, about the lives of the Altai people in the new conditions of a socialist economy. Written in the thirties, when collectivization had just reached a height, Kopelov's novel is firmly linked with the works on the same theme both in the "Library" itself and in our literature in general.
Recent years have seen the appearance of a whole number of interesting works portraying Lenin at various stages of his life and revolutionary activity. Siberian writers have made their own contribution to Leniniana. Among their works on the theme a worthy place is occupied by Sartakov's collection of stories First meeting and Afanasi Koptelov's novels Great Beginnings and Come Forth the Flames.
For all its size, the "Library of Siberian Novels" could not include many significant works such as the novel of Vil Lipatov already mentioned or those of Agnia Kuznetsova, Ilya Lavrov or Vadim Ivanov, nor a member of works by other well-known Soviet writers.
This is partly due to the fact that some books which have already become Soviet classics, such as those of Vsevolod Ivanov and Lydia Seifullina, have been published recently in separate editions. On the other hand, the fact that many books by writers who are still alive and working have been published and republished a number of times has given the compilers of the "Library" the opportunity to use their space for works that have not been published for a long time. I think this is why Sergei Zalygin, Anatoli Ivanov, Ivan Paderin, and other authors are not represented.
The reviewer is even more restricted in space than the compilers. Consequently many works have had to be mentioned in passing or simply named. But the main spirit of all that has been written by Siberian authors in Soviet times leads to the conclusion that their works are indissolubly linked with the whole of Soviet Russian literature, and at the same time constitute an organic and original "Siberian version."
Reprinted from Soviet Literature, No. 11, 1971. Moscow.|
See also sovlit.net's detailed summaries of the following Siberian novels:
Siberia by Georgi Markov
Callow Youth by Aleksandr Rekemcuhuk
The Rout by Aleksandr Fadeev