Andrei Sinyavsky Long Fiction Analysis
Any attempt to analyze Andrei Sinyavsky’s fiction must take the essay On Socialist Realism into account, for the ideas developed in that essay provide the basis for his fictional works. Socialist Realism has been defined in the Soviet Union as a depiction of “reality in its revolutionary development,” the favored official medium being an anemic descendant of the so-called critical realism of the nineteenth century. This realism, Sinyavsky believes, is inadequate for expressing the heroic purpose, a purpose essential to the ideology forming the basis for the Soviet state. The neoclassicism of the eighteenth century, normally the ideal vehicle for the purpose of the autocratic state, could not be used for contemporary Soviet literature; the debunking of the Stalinist myth and absence of a figure of similar stature robbed the Russians of anyone or anything to glorify. The only remaining method possible is one based on hypothesis instead of purpose, and that method has to be fantasy. It is with this premise in mind that Sinyavsky has approached the novel.
The Trial Begins
Sinyavsky’s first novel, The Trial Begins, is set in Moscow during the last days of Joseph Stalin. It is ostensibly a realistic novel dealing with such well-known phenomena of the time as the “doctors’ plot,” which resulted in the stepped-up persecution of the Jews, the terrifying inner workings of the secret police, and the mass panic immediately following the death of Stalin. Sinyavsky’s principal characters include the public prosecutor Vladimir Petrovich Globov, his idealistic son, Seryozha, and Seryozha’s friend, Katya. Globov’s second wife, Marina, and Yuri Karlinsky, a defending attorney, eventually manage to become lovers behind Globov’s back. Globov’s former mother-in-law, Yekaterina Petrovna, is an old Bolshevik idealist.
Globov is scheduled to prosecute the gynecologist S. Y. Rabinovich, who performed an illegal abortion, but the woman in question is Globov’s beautiful and sexy but soulless wife, Marina. Rabinovich is Jewish, and his predicament is a transparent reference to Stalin’s anti-Semitic campaign in the 1950’s. Globov’s life is complicated further by the fact that his adolescent son, Seryozha, has written a notebook calling for a new Communist society that will be free of the corruption that has stained the old one, a society in which those in the highest offices would earn the lowest wages, money would be abolished, and everyone would receive “according to his needs.” Seryozha shares his ideas with Katya and gives her the notebook. She takes it to Karlinsky for advice, protesting against Seryozha’s orthodoxy that a noble end should be served by noble means; Karlinsky counters that power corrupts, with the noble means soon forgotten. After she leaves, he gives vent to his jealous rage against Marina’s husband, deciding to strike at him by blowing the whistle on his son, Seryozha. Seryozha is eventually tried and sent to a labor camp, where he is joined by Rabinovich. Finally given the opportunity to consummate his affair with Marina, Karlinsky proves to be impotent. Katya is trampled to death in the mass stampede following Stalin’s funeral.
At first glance, The Trial Begins appears to be a realistic work that reveals corruption and evil in the Soviet Union, a critique of the system in the tradition of Vladimir Dudintsev’s Ne khlebom yedinym (1956; Not by Bread Alone, 1957) or Ilya Ehrenburg’s Ottepel (1954; The Thaw, 1955). Appearances, however, are deceiving, and The Trial Begins stands apart from its fellows by virtue of Sinyavsky’s use of fantasy.
The Trial Begins is introduced by a narrator, one of a series of Sinyavsky’s quirky, neurotic narrators. He bears a close resemblance to Yury Olesha’s hero Kavalerov in the novel Zavist (1927; Envy, 1936), and it is easy to see why a number of Western critics initially assumed that the novelist and critic known as Tertz was actually Olesha. Tertz’s narrator, similar to but not identical with Tertz himself, is the author of the manuscript that constitutes the major portion of the novel. He is a writer, the generic, nonconformist Soviet writer.
The narrator is victimized in the middle of the night by two secret police agents, Vitya and Tolya, who work as a team and bear a strong resemblance to Thompson and Thomson from Hergé’s series of children’s books on the young French reporter Tintin. Vitya and Tolya, like Thompson and Thomson, are the enemies of freedom and originality, and their purpose is to destroy art. One of them scoops all the letters and punctuation marks off the page and crushes one caught trying to escape. The manuscript they have confiscated is The Trial Begins, but the characters and events in the work come to life as if they had been written by an omniscient, not a first-person, narrator. The narrator himself disappears from the story, not to surface again until the end, when he is shown in prison camp with his invented characters Rabinovich and Seryozha. Thus, the body of the novel is sandwiched between the reader’s introduction to the narrator at the beginning and the reader’s final, sad view of him at the end.
The most fantastic element of the frame technique used by Sinyavsky is that two characters who are part of the body of the novel—that is, part of the manuscript written by the convict author—actually appear with him in prison at the conclusion of the story. The reader is then left with the uneasy sensation that the manuscript has taken over and somehow become actuality, that the omniscient and first-person narrators might possibly be the same individual. The implications of this confusing situation are enormous.
Beneath the surface of an apparent protest novel, a novel peppered with such peculiar events as the appearance of the hand of God to the narrator at the beginning or Marina’s gift of liqueur-filled chocolates to Seryozha at the end, other factors are at work. Sinyavsky’s novel is only superficially about political events and the illicit love affair between Karlinsky and Marina. It is actually about art, specifically about literature and the intricacies involved in the writing of fiction. As such, it follows in the tradition of Russian works that are consciously but obliquely about literature or art, works such as Olesha’s Envy—a tradition that ultimately extends back to the subtle plays and short stories of Pushkin.
Sinyavsky is, of course, concerned with political abuses and is clearly against the overwhelming domination of all aspects of Soviet life by Stalin’s dictatorship, but he is primarily preoccupied with artistic freedom. The arrest, to which any citizen was subject at any time, without warning, was a...
(The entire section is 2810 words.)