Critical Context

While the official school of Soviet literature, Socialist Realism, degenerated into self-parody during the Stalinist era, Russian writers after 1958 have in some cases been able to pick up the pieces and forge a vigorous new literature. This post-Socialist Realism leaves out the facile faith and optimism of the old school. The most useful part of the old legacy of writing novels to order to spotlight different industries, is that work, any occupation under the sun, has become the fully naturalized environment of Soviet literature. The supreme post-Socialist Realist novel may be Rakovy korpus (1968; Cancer Ward, 1968), also written by a professional mathematician, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, in which life, work, and the human soul are so compellingly intertwined that all three are made more meaningful. Grekova’s Ladies’ Hairdresser is an important bridge to that level.

Also anticipating the later Solzhenitsyn, Grekova makes women and their particular concerns (not simply woman as Communist, woman as worker, woman as war heroine) into a much more fully naturalized part of Soviet Russian literature. Both men and women lose their aura of Soviet heroism and become more believable. From the past, Grekova embraces Mikhail Zoshchenko’s tradition of apolitical yet gentle irony. Even more than Zoshchenko, Grekova brings out the malaise beneath the foibles.