Alexander Zinoviev John Leonard - Essay

John Leonard

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Although it calls itself a novel, "The Yawning Heights" defies categories, and perhaps description. Satire? Philosophical romance? Encyclopedia? Obsequy? It is Gogol with elephantiasis. It begins lumpy, achieves an astonishing texture, goes on almost forever, and ends in despair. It contains and dissects and reviles Soviet bureaucracy, rhetoric, science, psychology, philosophy, literature, art, theater, music, medicine, politics, education and journalism. There isn't a Soviet intellectual known to the West who doesn't appear in its many pages, and there are hundreds unknown to us who strut and grovel and inform and disappear. The intelligentsia of the Soviet Union, in fact, is for Alexander Zinoviev what Paris was for Proust: rotten, but significant….

We are in Ibansk … where everybody's name is Ibanov. We distinguished among the Ibanovs, as they experience the total Ism, by their professions. Thus, one Ibanov is Sociologist, another Careerist, a third Colleague, a fourth Schizophrenic, a fifth Slanderer and so on. These designations, naturally, are false-faced. Thus, Dauber is a great artist, Slanderer tells the truth, Chatterer speaks profoundly, Writer is a hack and Thinker is a cretin. The exceptions to this deception are Boss (Stalin), Hog (Khrushchev) and Truthteller (Solzhenitsyn). None of them is described. We get to know them all too well by their words and actions.

There are more words than action. What these people do is talk, incessantly, brilliantly, and to very little purpose. They know...

(The entire section is 638 words.)