Authors: Georgi Vladimov
“Vladimov’s particular distinction was as a dissident of immense moral courage, and as the author of
, one of the defining literary texts of the post-Stalin period. His life was one of constant vicissitudes, but his authority and fortitude remained firm to the end.”
“[A] perfectionist whose writing took him much effort … Vladimov produced a set of works that captured the mood of the times, but whose craft will ensure they survive.
“Known as a writer of strong conscience … Mr. Vladimov’s best-known work,
, is a chilling, cynical parable of false hopes in the post-Stalin era.”
NEW YORK TIMES
“Russia’s political reality can be best understood through Russian fiction. Today’s Russia, for instance, calls to mind
, a novella by dissident writer Georgi Vladimov.”
—THE ST. PETERSBURG TIMES
“[An] exceptionally talented writer who has been cut down in mid-career and who is being hounded by the KGB. One reason for the persecution is his celebrated novella,
, which has circulated all over the country in samizdat.”
was born Georgii Nikolaievich Volosevich in 1931 in Kharkov, Ukraine. As a child, his father was killed in World War II, and his Jewish mother was sent to the gulag in one of Stalin’s anti-Semitic purges. He began using the pseudonym Vladimov when he took up journalism after graduating from law school in 1953. His first novel,
The Big Mine
appeared in 1961, drawing praise for its frank take on issues of Soviet life such as alcoholism. But government censors delayed his next book,
Three Minutes of Silence
, for years, accusing him of “perverting Soviet reality.” In response, Vladimov aligned himself with Andrei Sakharov and the dissident movement, eventually becoming director of the Moscow branch of Amnesty International—a treasonous act. His work circulated in samizdat throughout, including a story called “The Dogs,” which would eventually become the novel
. Finally published under his name in 1978 in Germany, Soviet authorities refused to let Vladimov leave the country to respond to international invitations until 1983. He thereafter remained in exile, publishing books such as
The General and His Army
, which won the Russian Booker in 1994. He did not return to Russia until 2000, when he was offered a residence in the official writers’ colony near Moscow. He nonetheless continued to spend most of his time abroad, and died in Frankfurt, Germany in 2003.
(1927–1990) was a British intelligence officer who quit to become a salesman for Wedgewood, which first took him to the Soviet Union. He was the first to translate Bulgakov and Solzhenitsyn into English, as well as numerous dissident authors.
I was by no means the only reader of books on board the
Several other sailors were diligent readers, though their studies did not lie in the way of belles-lettres. Their favourite authors were such as you may find at the book-stalls around Fulton Market; they were slightly physiological in their nature. My book experiences on board of the frigate proved an example of a fact which every book-lover must have experienced before me, namely, that though public libraries have an imposing air, and doubtless contain invaluable volumes, yet, somehow, the books that prove most agreeable, grateful, and companionable, are those we pick up by chance here and there; those which seem put into our hands by Providence; those which pretend to little, but abound in much
Originally published in Russian by the émigré publishers Possev Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, as
, by Georgi Vladimov Copyright © 1978 by Possev Verlag
Translation and Foreword copyright © 1979 by Michael Glenny
Melville House Publishing
145 Plymouth Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201
If the reading public outside the USSR has heard little of Georgi Vladimov until now, it is not from a lack of talent in this author, as this novel will show; it is due rather to the exceptional difficulty he has encountered in having his books passed by the Soviet literary censors. In a land where all media are controlled by the state and where writers must follow rules that govern not only their subject matter but even their style, Vladimov has found it harder than most other Soviet authors to get his work into print. Although his writing is remarkable for its originality, insight, honesty and ironic humor, these qualities are not enough to earn publication in the Soviet Union—in fact they can be a positive hindrance. This novel, for instance, which many Russians regard as Vladimov’s masterpiece, completed in 1974, has never been printed in the USSR.
has an unusual history, even by Soviet standards. In the years 1963–65 Vladimov wrote a short story called simply “The Dogs”; it described how a peaceful May Day procession was attacked and broken up by a pack of former prison-camp guard dogs, who mistook the procession for a column of prisoners. The story was unsigned, and for
the ten years or so in which it circulated illicitly from hand to hand in typescript, readers were so impressed by its qualities that its authorship was generally ascribed to Solzhenitsyn. During those years, however, Vladimov was not content to leave the story in its original form; as the idea continued to ferment in his mind, he changed the emphasis, expanded the story to the length of a short novel, rewrote it again and again in his careful, scrupulous fashion until it had been so transformed that it was a work of altogether different character and far greater scope. At some point in this process (only the author knows when it was) he retitled his book
. This time he did not allow it to be passed around in
(“self-publishing”—the Russian term for the unofficial circulation of forbidden typescripts); instead, knowing that it could never be legally published in the Soviet Union, he made arrangements for it to be printed abroad in West Germany, whither he managed to smuggle out a copy at the end of 1974. In order to conceal the fact of its relatively recent completion, at the author’s request the date of the original story “The Dogs” (1963–65) was printed at the end of
. When this final version of the story appeared in 1975, taking up almost a complete issue of
(the émigré Russian literary journal published in Frankfurt-on-Main), it bore at last its author’s name.
Georgi Vladimov was born in the Ukrainian city of Kharkov in 1931. “Vladimov” is, in fact, a pseudonym; his real name, in its full form, is Georgii Nikolaievich Volosevich, but he has always published under the name of Vladimov. His father was killed at the front in World War II; his mother was imprisoned during the final surge of Stalin’s terror in 1952. Soon after graduating from the law school of Leningrad University in 1953, Vladimov began working as a journalist
on a small provincial newspaper. Starting in 1954, his reviews and critical articles made their appearance in Soviet literary magazines. From 1956 to 1959 he was an editor in the prose section of the journal
. One of his best pieces of criticism, published by
in 1961, was a stimulating and perceptive review of J. D. Salinger’s
The Catcher in the Rye
. In its July issue of the same year,
also published Vladimov’s first novella, called
The Big Mine
, notable for its crisp, direct style and the startling frankness (by Soviet standards) of its treatment of matters such as alcoholism.
This promising debut as a fiction writer was somewhat overshadowed by the worldwide sensation created when in 1962
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
, which marked the emergence of a new Russian writer of towering stature and tended to eclipse all other literary topics. In more than one way, however, Solzhenitsyn’s epoch-making novella provided the stimulus for Vladimov to write the story that evolved into
. This is only partly because Vladimov followed Solzhenitsyn in taking Stalin’s infamous prison camps as his basic theme. Solzhenitsyn is rather the godfather of Vladimov’s novel in a wider sense, namely that thanks to the political skill of Tvardovsky (the editor-in-chief of
) in getting Solzhenitsyn’s work into print, the long-standing and previously rigid taboo on the prison camps was broken. The publication of
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
opened the sluice gates that had been holding back a pent-up torrent of prison-camp literature, and Soviet magazines and publishing houses were swamped in a tidal wave of manuscripts on this subject. Very few of them were ever published, because the shock caused by Solzhenitsyn’s novella alone was enough to make Khrushchev and the rest of the Soviet leadership regret even
this concession to liberalism. After some delays and hesitation, a ban on the prison-camp theme was effectively reim-posed, although in more ambiguous and less draconian form than under Stalin.