5 Russian Books Banned in the Soviet Union—Part I Posted by Maria on Sep 23, 2019 in Literature
Some of the books that have entered the Russian literary canon were virtually unknown in Russia until the late 80s or the 90s. These books were either outright banned from publication or were only available as bootleg copies—famously as homemade samizdat (самизда́т) copies. Here are five books that are mainstream now but were out of print in the Soviet times.
1. Мы (We)
The dystopian novel “Мы” by Yevgeny Zamyatin (Евге́ний Замя́тин) was written in 1921 and served as an inspiration for subsequent novels in this genre. The book describes a society run based on mathematical principles, where relationships and free choice have been replaced with total police control. The protagonists starts out believing in the system he lives in but runs into a person who challenges his ideas.
The author, Yevgeny Zamyatin, was a member of the Bolshevik party before the Russian Revolution of 1917 but did not like where the country was headed after the revolution. Because We could be interpreted as critical of the early Soviet Union, the book was banned in the USSR and was published abroad. The author was exiled, and the book did not come out in Russia until 1988.
2. Жизнь и судьба́ (Life and Fate)
This novel by Vasily Grossman (Васи́лий Гро́ссман) is centered around the events of 1942–1943 in World War Two, including the Battle of Stalingrad (сталингра́дская би́тва). Life and Fate follows the members of one family and their friends as they navigate this difficult time while living in a totalitarian state. The novel touches upon many challenges and injustices, such as wartime cruelty, antisemitism—both by the Nazis and within the USSR, old-time communists being devoured by the system they helped create, conformity and cowardice when dealing with the state, and loss of loved ones.
Grossman was pushed to write this novel partly by the tragedy of his own mother, who was murdered in Nazi-occupied Ukraine for being Jewish. A character in the novel writes a last letter to her son, just as Grossman’s mother did in real life.
Written from 1950 to 1959, the book was never published during the writer’s lifetime. It was first smuggled out of the country and published abroad and did not appear in the USSR until 1988.
3. До́ктор Жива́го (Doctor Zhivago)
The novel Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak (Бори́с Пастерна́к) follows the story of several families from the turn of the 20th century until World War Two. The drama in the story results both from interpersonal relationships and from the events and changes in the country around that time.
Because the book showed the author’s ambivalence towards the Russian Revolution and the USSR, literary journals there refused to publish it. The manuscript was smuggled out in 1957 and published abroad. Pasternak was awarded the Nobel prize for literature (но́белевская пре́мия по литерату́ре) in 1958 but was forced to turn it down under pressure from the Soviet government. The book was not published in Russia until 1988.
We will continue this list in Part II. In the meantime, what other books do you know of that were censored or banned in Russia or elsewhere? Have you read any of the books in this post?
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