Georgy Vladimov is well known in the West for his novel Faithful Ruslan (1979) translated into many languages. When in 1969 his Three Minutes of Silence was greeted with a barrage of official criticism Vladimov had to resign from the Writers' Union. In 1977 he assumed the leadership of the Moscow chapter of Amnesty International. He was forced to emigrate from the country and in 1983 settled in Germany where he edited the emigre journal Grani in 1984-86. Last year he returned to Russia.
His better known novels are: Faithful Ruslan, Three Minutes of Silence, The Great Ore, A General and His Army. They were repeatedly published in Russia and other countries.
"A superbly written, evocative novel..." The Moscow Times
"The major novel of this century..." Segodnya
The novel is the result of Vladimov's ghost writing the memoirs of leading Soviet generals about the conduct of the Second World War. Some people see the novel as an attempt to rehabilitate General Vlasov, commander of the Russian Liberation Army that fought on the German side against Stalin. In fact, the main concern of his novel is the phenomenon of large numbers of Russians, variously estimated at between 400,000 and two million, taking up arms against their own country.
The novel is densely written, with constant allusion to events past and future, and a completely original perspective on the Russian conduct of the Second World War as an ambiguous history of criminal brutality, incompetence, and heroism. At the same time, Vladimov concedes great shrewdness to Stalin in his understanding of the people over whom he ruled.
The novel is framed by the fictitious General Kobrisov's never accomplished return to GHQ after his recall from the Ukrainian front. He travels along a road flooded with demoralized Russian deserters who are heading in to town ahead of the no less demoralized Germans. Heinz Guderian, commander of the tank army moving on Moscow from the south, finds himself humiliatingly stranded when his tank falls into a shallow ravine. Finally returning to his headquarters at Tolstoy's estate of Yasnaya Polyana, Guderian writes out the order for German troops to retreat from Moscow for the winter.
The next flashback is to the autumn of 1943 when Kobrisov finds himself outmaneuvered at a war council chaired by Marshal Zhukov, where it is decided that a Ukrainian general should liberate the first major Ukrainian city to be recaptured, Predslavl. Unlike Zhukov or his fellow generals he has an acute awareness of the value of human lives and cannot reconcile himself to the method of Russian warfare, whereby three armies pave the way for a fourth to advance over their corpses.
In order to delay Kobrisov's advance on Predslavl he is instructed to encircle and capture Myriatin, a town he has been leaving alone because he knows most of its defenders to be Russians fighting against Stalin. Kobrisov imagines the mass executions which Smersh will be instigating after the capture of Myriatin.
Vladimir Makanin, born in 1937 in the Urals, is a mathematician by training. Today he is one of the best-known, most serious, powerful, and intelligent writers of his generation, winner of the Booker, Pushkin and State prizes.
His prolific work, translated into many languages, forms an integral whole, a painstakingly assembled study of the existential dynamics of life thrown into relief by the particular circumstances and psychology of communist (and post-communist) Russia. A central theme of many of his work is the relation of the individual to the collective.
Baize-covered Table (see Glas 7) won him the Russian Booker Prize in 1993. The novel pursues Makanin's main theme: the fate of the individual in Soviet mass society. He penetrates to the very heart of the Soviet phenomenon, exposing the psychology of Soviet little man.
In his inimitable cold and alienated style, Makanin has used a variety of genres and subjects to analyze this theme, from the parable Fleeing Citizen to the anti-utopia Manhole short-listed for the Booker Prize in 1995.
Escape Hatch, also short-listed for the Russian Booker, is set in the city where society has broken down and the hero commutes between the ruined surface and the wealthy underground as the escape hatch begins to close off.
Vladimir Makanin's "The Captive of the Caucasus", which gives this collection its name, is one vivid example of the illusory nature of man's freedom. We are all in some sense captives: captives of a political system, of circumstances, of our obligations or our illusions, to say nothing of those who are captives in a literal sense. The world seems to be full of misplaced people trapped in captivity of one kind or another, sometimes self-imposed, but feeling nonetheless alienated from a hostile world around them.
In Makanin's novella the invaders find that they are the captives of the country they have conquered.
"For all its intellectual rigour its dryness, its studied bareness it has the mark of a deeply felt, introspective, intensely personal work. Its atmosphere is dark, its effect profoundly unsettling." Sally Laird in the Observer
"AN OUTSTANDING WORK OF RUSSIAN PROSE." Times Literary Supplement
"Makanin's careful, gray style carries its own intensity, forming an enigmatic post-Soviet voice..." Publishers Weekly
"Makanin is one of those writers who bridge two eras and he does that with exceptional skill. His writing is sparse and thought-provoking..." Washington Post
"Makanin has found a brilliant device for giving his dystopian fantasy a human face." Sunday Telegraph
Vassily Aksyonov, born in 1932, has been widely published in the West. All his major novels are available in English translation: Generations of Winter, In Search of Melancholy Baby, The Island of Crimea, The Burn, to name a few. Included in this collections are Aksyonov's two new stories appearing in English translation for the first time.
Alexander Terekhov was born in 1966 in a provincial town of Novomoskovsk where his parents still live. Terekhov's early literary themes were largely drawn from his formative experiences during his army service. He described them in the short novel Buddy (see Glas 2) for which he was severely persecuted by the Army High Command for "slander". This novel and the cycle of short stories on the same subject, Soldier's Memoirs, established his name as one of the most talented writers of the neo-realist school.
His childhood, spent in a small industrial town in Central Russia which still preserves "the spirit of the early builders of communism", provided the background for his The Rat-Killer, in which the main action is set in a similar town.
The novel draws a clear parallel between the rats and human beings. As the political intrigue of phantasmagorical post-communist reality develops into nightmare, the greed, cunning and malice of the humans more and more resembles the behaviour of the large communities of destructive rodents, while the rats acquire more and more human features.
Terekhov introduces descriptions and explanations of the complex social organisation of rat society, with its dominant and subordinate males, and of the means used to fight rats, up to and including other rats specially trained to kill and disrupt communities.
Terekhov's language is packed with forceful imagery and the slang of modern Russian. If we wish to identify precedents for his work we might look to Saltykov-Schedrin from the 19th century for his satire of provincial life, and Platonov in the early Soviet period for his range of imagery and individuality of language.
Terekhov, however, is a young and vital writer drawing very much on his own resources and experience, with a distinctive and individual intonation. In The Rat-Killer he has produced a racy read which is at the same time an extended metaphor and a satirical novel very much in the Russian tradition.
In 2000, THE RAT-KILLER was published by C.H. Beck Verlag in German.