Alexander Zinoviev Aleksandr Nekrich - Essay

Aleksandr Nekrich

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[In Ziyayuschiye vysoty (The Yawning Heights)] Zinoviev has succeeded in doing what no historian, philosopher, or social scientist, either in the West or the Soviet Union, has so far been able to do. He has illuminated the closed society from within, in all its hidden, twisted psychological complexities. By rigorously telling the truth Zinoviev has removed the coverings from this system; even the most deeply concealed parts of the organism, seemingly the least accessible to observation, have not escaped his attention.

In the tradition of Hobbes, Voltaire, Swift, George Orwell, Anatole France, and of Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin, the great Russian satirist of the last century, Zinoviev has written a savage satire on a contemporary closed society, one highly reminiscent of Soviet society. His book is in fact a profound sociological study—I would call it the anatomical study—of the kind of society one finds in the Soviet Union. Zinoviev also appears in this book as a brilliant analyst of contemporary society in general, presenting his own original ideas on the state, ideology, morals, and laws of our times. His book is not only topical but of immense value both for specialists and for general readers.

In keeping with the traditions of the genre, Zinoviev has invented … a place not shown on any map, which does not exist in reality. He calls it Ibansk (a double pun on the most common of Russian names, Ivan, and the verb yebat—to fuck; hence Ibansk might be called a "fucktown for the Ivans")….

In the state of Ibansk, all the inhabitants have the same name, Ibanov, as if to underline not only their common ethnic origins but also their social and psychological homogeneity. But the author assigns special nicknames to various Ibanovs whose writings or statements figure in the pages rescued from the Ibansk garbage dump, names that hint at certain real figures; for example, Pravdets (Truth-Sayer) is Solzhenitsyn and Mazila (Dauber) is the sculptor Ernst Neizvestny, reportedly a friend of Zinoviev. We may suspect that Soviet readers will recognize other figures behind such names as "Shizofrenic," "Member," "Thinker," "Pretender," or "Babbler."

None of these characters appears to us as a person with a life of his own, and indeed the author's...

(The entire section is 957 words.)