As I plow on with an insane project I’ve assigned myself (creating a year-by-year chronology of Russian prose literature), I’m discovering all sorts of writers I didn’t know anything about, and I just came across this interesting story in a 1999 piece by Peter Rollberg:

Anatoly Kim lost [his cohesion with a location] twice, and both times years before he was born. For him it was a trauma (I called it the “prenatal author’s trauma” in one of my articles–as opposed to the actual personal or historical traumas such as Pak Wan-sô ‘s experience of the Korean war). As the offspring of the Korean minority on the Far Eastern island of Sakhalin–several hundred thousand people whose ancestors had once fled Japanese troops–Kim knew about Korea only from his family members. But in the fall of 1937, Stalin’s government decided to deprive this minority of their newly acquired homeland of fifty years. Supposedly because of a possible fraternization with Japanese military in the pending war, those hundreds of thousands of people were ordered to leave their homes on Sakhalin overnight; they were handed out coupons for the harvest that they had just gathered–those coupons later turned out to be invalid–and loaded on trains that took them to Kazakhstan, thousands of miles away. Those without college education were dropped off in the middle of the steppe where thousands died in the first rough winter. The more privileged ones–Kim’s parents among them–were given permission to settle in Kazakh towns.
Until the age of eight, Anatoly Kim spoke only Korean. Then he learned Russian and unlearned his native language forever. Studying painting and later literature in Moscow, Kim’s short-stories and novellas have as varied geographical backgrounds as his own life. In some narratives, Kim alluded to the Korean community on Sakhalin or in Kazakhstan, but he never told of the horrible events of 1937. And only when he was in his fifties–after the Soviet Union crumbled–could he visit Korea for the first time. This voyage, as well as his subsequent stay there for a number of years as a professor of Russian, proved a veritable revelation. For Anatoly Kim’s discovery of the real Korea was that same “voyage in search of a continent,” only that it was not an entirely new one. It was the continent of his roots.

(Via Far Outliers.)


  1. What is this project? The blog or something else? I work on a similar one.
    And do you have a candidate for 1689?

  2. What is this project? The blog or something else? I work on a similar one.
    I have no earthly idea. I just got interested in knowing what else was being read the year, say, War and Peace came out and realized there was no easy way to find out. I guess if I can’t think of anything else to do with it I’ll just post it here; I can’t imagine many people would buy a booklet consisting of some guy’s list of authors and books arranged by year. I’m certainly open to suggestions. What are you doing with yours, and how long have you been working on it?
    And do you have a candidate for 1689?
    1689!! Your list is obviously more ambitious than mine, at least in the early section. Mine is really modern Russian literature; it starts (so far):
    1763: Fedor Emin, Nepostoyannaya fortuna [Inconstant fortune] (first Russian novel)
    1766: Fedor Emin, Pis’ma Ernesta i Doravry [Letters of Ernest and Doravra] (one of the first works of Russian sentimentalism)
    1770: Mikhail Chulkov, Prigozhaya Povarikha [The comely cook] (“a sort of Russian Moll Flanders”)
    1782: Denis Fonvizin, Nedorosl’ [The youth] (the best comedy by the foremost Russian playwright of the 18th century)
    By the time I get to the twentieth century I have at least one work for every year (and in the 1920s it averages about a dozen per year), but the early years are sparse; I guess it’s a combination of not thinking that many people are interested in pre-nineteenth-century works and feeling that I have enough on my plate already.

  3. mollymooly says:

    On Wikipedia, Category:Works by year and subcategories might give you some help, and vice versa. Also I guess Категория:Произведения по годам
    Category: 1689 books is rather thin.

  4. Unfortunately, the “literature” pickings in those categories are very slim. I got excited when I found 1901 год в литературе, thinking that the series of such articles would help me through the century, but alas, only a few years have been favored with them.

  5. Sounds like an interesting project, and probably not as straightforward as it would be in other cultures. How are you planning to treat “release dates” of samizdat and exile literature? And will you include important translations of foreign works into Russian?

  6. And do you have a candidate for 1689?

    Повесть о Фроле Скобееве (The Tale of Frol Skobeyev) is, I think the only known Russian secular novel from C17, dated as 1680s. It is in the picaro genre and is fascinatingly close in time to when it, the genre, was first introduced in Europe (1620s) by the Spanish and became tremendously popular throughout the Continent. Grimmelshausen’s Simplicissimus was written in 1660s and must have been known in Russia through officers of the army of the new order. I suggested it as a teaser – too often I hear that there was no literature in Russia before Pushkin.
    In my project I am trying to identify lost, obscure or misunderstood links of Russian literature with the culture of other countries. The idea comes from Amis’s The Russian Girl and is constantly fed by frustration over (mostly) Western take on Russian literature. Solzhenitsyn is, in my view, hugely overrated as a writer. Pasternak’s prose is also overrated, but his poetry is under-rated while his immense work as a translator of English literature, e.g. Shakespeare, is overlooked. Sholokhov is all but forgotten. One great exception is Bulgakov, who is equally, and deservedly so, loved and read in the West and in Russia, but his limitations are ignored. Trifonov, the best Russian writer of the Soviet period, again, in my opinion, is little known or understood except from the dissident perspective. The original author of The Twelve Chairs story, Katayev, who had been the incredibly generous giant of letters from 1910s to 1980s, has very few serious references in the West (Arthur Miller is one exception). Kaverin, who once famously proclaimed that of all Russian writers he loved best ETA Hoffmann and RL Stevenson, is hardly known, even though in Soviet Russia he had been an iconic literary figure and is still popular.
    And the other way round, there are gaps in Russian knowledge of Western literature. Jane Austen, a classic, is hardly known. Maugham is very popular, but his caustic comments about Chekhov and Russian ‘verbosity’in Ashenden are all but non-existent. Address Unkwnown, the incredible double bestseller by Kressman Taylor, surfaces in an obscure bibliographical index of 1943 in Magadan, the capital of Soviet Gulag, and is published again in Russian in the early 2000s, but still only gets a few dozen references in the Russian internet.
    So mine is horizontal, while yours is vertical. Your idea is great, but what would you do with spike years? Overcrowd them? How do you choose a representative work? For example in 1867 Dostoyevsky published Idiot, Tolstoy continued serialising War and Peace and Turgenev released Smoke. Skabichevsky in 1890s was the most prominent liberal critic of the rising revolutionary-democratic trend in Russian culture, but few remember him now. Would you include him?
    Sorry if I am un-threading the Kim story, which of course is fascinating. I have always seen him as part of the journal Druzhba Narodov set and don’t know his prose very well.

  7. There’s a category on the English Wikipedia containing a whole series of articles called “N in literature”, where N is a year number (1698, e.g.). The articles provide significant historical events, books published and plays premiered, and the births and deaths of litterateurs. The books are currently all English-language ones, but I don’t see anything in the informal charter that compels them to be; definitely the births and deaths are not merely English.

  8. Sounds like an interesting project, and probably not as straightforward as it would be in other cultures.
    Very true!
    How are you planning to treat “release dates” of samizdat and exile literature?
    An excellent question (although I’m not sure what you mean about “exile literature”; Gaito Gazdanov’s great Vecher u Kler [An evening with Claire] was published in 1930 just as much as anything published in the USSR). My approach is based on how widely I think the work was available. For the famous works of Bulgakov and Platonov, which were largely unavailable until they were finally published, I put them under the latter date, with a note about when they were written, thus:
    1966-67: Bulgakov, Master i Margarita [The master and Margarita] (written 1928-40)
    (I put particularly significant works in bold.) But for samizdat works that circulated widely and exerted influence immediately, I put them under the year they were written and began to be circulated (as best I can determine), with the year in brackets, thus:
    [1960]: Andrei Sinyavsky, Sud idyot [Court is in session, tr. as The Trial Begins]
    Obviously I may not always judge these things properly and I would welcome corrections. (Sashura and vanya, let me know if you are interested and I will e-mail you the Word files of the lists in their current state.)
    And will you include important translations of foreign works into Russian?
    Hadn’t thought of it. I guess it might be a good idea to include a few of the most important (e.g., Pasternak’s Shakespeare), but I’d need somebody to tell me what they were and when they were published.
    And the other way round, there are gaps in Russian knowledge of Western literature… Address Unknown, the incredible double bestseller by Kressman Taylor… still only gets a few dozen references in the Russian internet.
    I hate to tell you, but it’s been pretty much forgotten in the West as well; I had never heard of Kathrine Kressmann Taylor myself. Sic transit!

  9. To follow up on Sashura’s comments, I can list a whole slew of works from 18th century Russian literature (thanks to a grad school course) but have never heard of Kathrine Kressman Taylor! I’ll have to look her up.
    Sashura, if you’re still following this thread, I’d be interested in your suggestions on a good place to start with Trifonov… I’ve read a bit, including Дом на набережной but have had a tough time getting into his work.
    It’s fun to see a mention of Pasternak’s Shakespeare translations: years ago, a friend bought me a slightly psychadelic edition with facing originals and translations. I love reading some of his passages in Macbeth!

  10. Your idea is great, but what would you do with spike years? Overcrowd them?
    I just put as many significant works as I find for any given year; there’s no issue of overcrowding. Here, for instance, is my current list for 1930 (I provide the author’s given name only for the first work included):
    Gaito Gazdanov, Vecher u Kler [An evening with Claire]
    Nabokov, Soglyadatai [The spy, tr. as The Eye]
    Bely, Na rubezhe dvukh stoletii [At the turn of the century] (memoir)
    Aldanov, Begstvo [Escape] (second of 1917 trilogy)
    Grin, Doroga nikuda [The road to nowhere]
    Venyamin Kaverin, Khudozhnik neizvesten [Artist unknown]
    Leonov, Sot’ [tr. as Soviet River]
    P. Romanov, Tovarishch Kislyakov [Comrade Kislyakov]
    Libedinsky, Rozhdenie geroya [Birth of a hero] (“a muted protest”)
    Nina Berberova, Poslednie i pervye [The last and the first]
    Ilya Zdanevich, Voskhishchenie [Rapture] (avant-garde crime novel)
    Shaginyan, Gidrotsentral [Hydroelectric plant]
    Skabichevsky in 1890s was the most prominent liberal critic of the rising revolutionary-democratic trend in Russian culture, but few remember him now. Would you include him?
    My standards are higher for secondary (critical) works, and as far as I can tell Skabichevsky was quite second-rate (Bulgakov mocks him, for instance). I hadn’t really thought it through, but I guess my policy (as it stands now) is to include critical works only when they’re still considered significant; the list is getting quite long as it is, and I don’t want it cluttered with too many items of purely historical interest.

  11. sorry, i’m falling asleep after a hard day – thanks for all your comments.
    How does Bulgakov mock Skab. – Begemoth signs with his name on entering the Writers’ Club?
    And, again think of Amis, The Russian Girl, who sets the standards? In the novel, the professor, in love with the Russian poetesse, was the only person in the country to know that her poetry was bad. Skab made his name in polemics with Pisarev, and as such is a very important, if largely forgotten figure in Russian culture. Think: 1860s discourse with Pisarev, 70 years later! in 1930s Bulgakov remembers Skab in M&M. It’s not for nothing.
    Lisa: glad to hear from someone with appreciation for C18 Russian. Pushkin wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for Lomonossov and Fonvizin. Prof Zapadov read 18th lit to us in the 70s. Do you know of him?

  12. Sashura, an American professor taught this course — it was a lot of fun, though reading in the old orthography was challenging at first because I’d only had a few years of Russian. It was one of the best courses I took, and I completely agree with you about the importance of the early literature. It’s too bad so few people read it. I used to go to sweep off Kheraskov’s grave when I lived in Moscow — all because I wrote a paper about one of his plays!
    I wish I remembered The Russian Girl… I read it about 15 years ago and about all I recall is that I enjoyed it.

  13. Is Vasily Aksyonov considered an artistically strong writer by readers of Russian, or is he now merely important for having ‘dissented’ from and been exiled / emigrated from the post-War “revolution”?
    I read, in English, The Burn years ago, and was impressed by its clever humor and its sadness, and wonder how related what I remember feeling was/is to what readers of Russian experience in reading the book.

  14. When I was in grad school in the early 90s my impression was that Russians had a very high opinion of Aksyonov as an artist. He was idolized by intellectual Russians in their 20s and 30s at the time – especially the Petersburg set I knew. I suspect his reputation has since declined considerably since his output post-1992 was considered by most Russians fairly weak. And the new generation probably considers him fairly dated.
    LH, I mentioned “exile” literature thinking of works like “Lolita” – it made little impression on the broader Russian culture when it was published but by 1989 every babushka on the metro was reading it. But you’re better off going with the actual date of publication otherwise things get too subjective.

  15. LH, I mentioned “exile” literature thinking of works like “Lolita”
    Well, that hardly counts, since it was an English-language novel that N. later translated into Russian. When I think of N’s “exile” literature, I think of his pre-US works, culminating with Dar. Of course it’s a pity that those books couldn’t be read in the USSR (except by a few), but for the purposes of the list, the exile community is just as “real” a reading public.

  16. exile literature and Aksyonov
    I agree with Ваня – most educated Russians think high of Aksyonov. It is definitely not linked to his dissident activities. His popularity was established with The Colleagues and The Star Ticket – years before troubles with the regime started. He was on our school reading list in the 1970s. I remember how in the late 60s his every new work caused tremendous excitement. In the early 70s, at school, we passed around Yunost magazine with his novel until pages started falling apart. 20 years later the same was happening with The Island of Crimea. It is important to understand where Aksyonov stands in Russian literary landscape – he is an urban writer, experimentator and on the intelligentsia side of literary debate. He was one of the first Soviet writers to create a figure of an ugly proletarian, in the Colleagues, and, at the time when intellectuals were often a figure of ridicule, Aksyonov’s most important constant thread was the character of a strong intellectual. I think it is these qualities that caused so much admiration in the Leningrad set that Vanya mentions here. And – hatred on the part of the more established writers, so called ‘lieutenants’ (war novels) and ‘villagers’ (деревенщики, деревенская проза), whose prose was largely set in rural life where they sought spiritual strength. What might seem to be a literary discussion was, still is, a serious ideological debate with roots going back to the westernisers vs slavophiles argument a hundred years before, but from 1960 onwards this debate acquires a more serious, not just Russian, but global meaning. It is, in effect, about the Big Idea, something to fill the spiritual void after communism and capitalism.

  17. Lisa:
    To get into Trifonov I’d suggest starting with his short stories. After winning Stalin’s Prize very early in his career, for Students, he went through years of not quite being able to find his right note. He went to Central Asia, fell in love with Turkmenistan, and brought back beautifully fresh stories. My favourites are Беседа с герпетологами (Chatting with Herpetologists), a very hemingwayan in form, but still original piece, and Старая песня (An Old Song): ‘I want to be tea in your cup to burn your lips’.
    I can’t find these texts online, please let me know if you do.
    Дом на набережной was a sensation, but I think Обмен (The Exchange) is more representative of Trifonov’s method – and message.

  18. Thanks, Sashura, for the Trifonov suggestions. I do have Обмен (and I once saw a stage adaptation!) and will look for the stories. I also couldn’t find them in quick Internet searches.

  19. Lisa,
    glad to hear from someone who’d enjoyed The Russian Girl (in Russian the published title is Эта Русская). I often find myself in the minority of one when I praise K Amis – many women readers find him offensive and shout me down.

  20. They get so aggressive when they’re drunk. I liked Lucky Jim.

  21. Sashura, the way I look at it, if I spent all my reading life looking for ways to get offended, there wouldn’t be much left to read! I have enjoyed several of K. Amis’s books. More than M. Amis’s books.
    AJP, thanks for a good laugh!

  22. David Marjanović says:

    Yeah, Turkmenistan is full of mildly interesting agamas, so it’s probably crawling with herpetologists, comparatively speaking.

  23. John Emerson says:

    I found the madhyama agama to be rather boring.

  24. Turkmenistan agamas…
    …there is a discussion on BBC Radio 4 right now about the disappearance of the polymath, from Leonadrdo to Stephen Fry. In ‘Chatting With Herpetologists’ the narrator is trying to extract something lyrical from the two young lizard lovers – and can’t, they are only interested in reptiles. ‘Is it true’, he asks in one final attempt, refering to Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not, ‘that turtoises can do it for three days non stop?’ But the herpetologists look at him with utter seriousness and explain that turtoise copulate for only several minutes, but females can be on heat for several days…
    The story was written in 1959, we still discuss the polymath.

  25. In 1959 this polymath was only a year old.

  26. David Marjanović says:

    ‘Is it true’, he asks in one final attempt, refering to Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not, ‘that turtoises can do it for three days non stop?’

    Obligatory link.

  27. Many many years ago I read something written by Anatoly Kim. It is something that has remained with me. Can I get something to read? Can I get something written by him. Can someone help me?

  28. I can’t find any record of anything by him being translated into English, if that’s the language you’re interested in.

  29. I can’t find these texts online, please let me know if you do.

    A little late, but Vol. 1 (pdf) of a 1978 Selected Works has the 400-page novel Нетерпение (Impatience [tr. The Impatient Ones], about the People’s Will terrorists of the 1880s) preceded by over 200 pages of short stories, including both the ones mentioned in the comment. And belated thanks to Sashura for encouraging me to read Trifonov, which I’m finally doing with tremendous pleasure!

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