Andrei Sinyavsky Essay - Critical Essays

Andrei Sinyavsky Short Fiction Analysis

Andrei Sinyavsky’s short fiction resembles his longer work in both its themes and its manner. While for the most part less overt in their political message than the novels, the stories contain heroes who are equally alienated—from society, from themselves, or from both—and who seem trapped in an existence from which they would like to escape. Elements of fantasy abound; in some cases the stories verge on science fiction, while in others the emphasis is more on extreme psychological states. The plots, to the extent that they can be discerned at all, are usually fairly straightforward. Interpretation, however, can be difficult; sometimes a given scene may be viewed as fantastic, as reflecting a character’s mental aberration, or as purposefully ambiguous. The first-person narrators are often not helpful in this regard, and situations may appear to be allegorical or metaphorical representations of themes that are not mentioned directly within the works. In short, Sinyavsky is demanding of his readers.

“At the Circus”

“At the Circus” stands out from the other stories: It predates them by several years and is also the most conventional in form. The narrator has a distinctive voice, but for once he is not a chief figure within the story itself. Still, the tale offers an early glimpse into some of Sinyavsky’s concerns. The hero, Kostia, is a ne’er-do-well who dreams of achieving the skill of those he admires at the circus. During a botched burglary, he kills the very magician he has admired, is sentenced to twenty years of hard labor, and then is himself killed during an attempt to escape. Kostia is the first of Sinyavsky’s many outsiders, those who feel in some way oppressed and want to escape into new lives; indeed, dreams of, or efforts at, getting away from ordinary life lie behind all the major events. Despite the third-person narration, Sinyavsky often limits the perspective to that of Kostia; the narrow focus and the frequent absence of conventional transitions pull the reader deep into the protagonist’s psyche, so that his distorted outlook becomes the norm for the world of the story. The narrative, as well as the settings and the subject matter, thus emphasizes the sense of oppression and enclosure; nearly all Sinyavsky’s stories seem, in this way, to be claustrophobic.


“Kvartiranty” (“Tenants”), composed in 1959, is perhaps among his most obscure stories. The setting of “Tenants,” a Russian communal apartment, is sufficiently realistic, but the narrator turns out to be a house sprite. His addressee—not interlocutor, since he does not say a word—is Sergei Sergeevich, a drunkard and writer who now lives within the apartment. The story is open to a variety of interpretations: It can be seen as a genuine fantasy or, less likely, as the drunken hallucinations of Sergei Sergeevich. The tales related by the house sprite are themselves fantastic, filled with references to literature or writers, and at first seem to be of little purpose. Eventually, though, certain themes emerge. The house sprite points to the prevalence of evil; not only do the names often contain hidden references to the devil or various spirits but also relatively mundane occurrences, such as a spat in the communal kitchen, lead to dire consequences. Many of the figures in the story have been driven out of one existence into another; even water nymphs and wood sprites have been forced from the country to the city. Ultimately, though, “Tenants” concerns the writer: the threats to his well-being, his position as an outsider, his (perhaps unfulfilled) obligation to deal with the evil around him.

“You and I”

“Ty i ya” (“You and I”) is arguably even more resistant to any single interpretation. Much...

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