We are all in some sense captives in today's world: captives of a political system, of circumstances, of our obliga-tions 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.
These stories from earlier issues of Glas have long been classics in Russian literature while their themes have become even more relevant today due to the changed situation in Russia in favor of bureaucratic totalitarianism and the unending war in the Caucasus. "More now than ever before, precisely because hopes on their native ground are again precarious," to quote Georges Steiner who noticed the tendency already some years ago.
For the sake of our new readers who have missed those earlier Glas issues we decided to reprint selected stories from them. The stories have been grouped in two sections: "The Post-Perestroika Confusion" and "Remembering the Soviet Past". The first group of stories, often verging on the absurd, conveys the chaos in the lives and minds of simple Russians in the face of unfamiliar problems. The second part is a reminder of the Soviet past, which so many Russians are nostalgic for today forgetting its inhuman essence as they are coping with the present-day difficulties.
Vladimir Makanin's "The Captive of the Caucasus", which gives this collection its name, captures the gist of the Russo-Chechen conflict in the Caucasus in one episode from the daily warfare going on there. It is one vivid example of the illusory nature of man's freedom: here Russian troops find that they are the captives of the land they think they have conquered.
In "The Tambourine for the Upper World" Victor Pelevin, the idol of Russia's young readers, depicts a group of enterprising girls who resuscitate foreign corpses from the battlefields of the Second World War so as to marry them and get themselves out of the perestroika-ravaged Russia.
Vassily Aksyonov, an internationally known author, turns to the funny side of the Russo-American cultural gaps in the confusion of the early post-Soviet years in his "Palmer's First Flight." With his characteristic wit he describes the misunderstandings on both sides of the cultural and political divide.
Alexander Terekhov, a young and vital writer with a distinctive and individual intonation, is known for his figurative language and wholesome realism. He paints a satirical picture of a small provincial town in the throes of a local fight for power ("The Rat-killer").
Vyacheslav Rybakov's fantastic story "Hassle" paints a weird picture of the post-Soviet excesses and the epidemic of emigration, which the author depicts literally as a grave disease.
Georgy Vladimov's Booker-prize-winning novel looks back at the less-known aspects of the Second World War. The episode we offer here illustrates the all-pervading atmosphere of shadowing and spying in which practically all of the soldiers were involved (The General and his Army).
Vassily Grossman, the world-famous 20th century classic, looks at the Civil War in the 1920s Russia from an unusual angle: a woman commissar happens to give birth in a Jewish home and then she leaves the baby behind for the Jewish family to raise.
An undisputed master of realist prose, Friedrich Gorenstein has a wicked sense of humor reminiscent of Ivan Bunin. His "Bag in Hand" is both a funny and frightening portrait of the small person under socialism when the chronic shortages of the basic consumer goods and foodstuffs reduced people's lives to constant queuing leaving little time and energy for any loftier occupations.
Yevgeny Popov's story reverberates with laughter and teasing humor that sometimes verges on the lyrical. Popov insists that "literature of the absurd is the realism of the 20th century." His "Pork Kebabs" is set in the 1960s but could have taken place today.
The collection is concluded with a series of short stories about the communal living in Russia, a phenomenon that no Westerner can understand.
See also Makanin's work in Glas 4, 7, 8; Victor Pelevin in Glas 4, 7, 14; Alexander Terekhov in Glas 2, 4.