Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 610

Andrei Donatovich Sinyavsky

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Andrei Donatovich Sinyavsky (ahn-DRAY doh-NAH-toh-vihch sih-NYAV-skee), a writer later known under the pseudonym Abram Tertz. Brought up by a revolutionary father, Sinyavsky studied Russian literature of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. His dedication to phantasmagoric literature flew in the face of the officially accepted Socialist Realism. Sinyavsky eventually had his work smuggled out of the country and published in the West under the pseudonym Abram Tertz. He is eventually arrested and imprisoned. After his release, he discovers that people have changed; they no longer live under the fear that was prevalent during Joseph Stalin’s time.

Donat Evgenievich Sinyavsky

Donat Evgenievich Sinyavsky (DOH-naht yehv-GEH-nih-yeh-vihch), the younger Sinyavsky’s father. A love of hunting and disdain for the petty details of everyday life (both remnants of his aristocratic heritage) combine with a strong will and fervent idealism to form this sincere atypical revolutionary. The elder Sinyavsky maintains genuine human compassion for individuals throughout the collectivization and maintains revolutionary idealism despite imprisonment. He participated in political agitation during the revolution, organized famine relief in the 1920’s, and eventually was imprisoned for anti-Soviet activity (a completely groundless charge). As a result of his imprisonment in 1951, he later becomes convinced that the authorities have tapped his brain in such a way that they can monitor his thoughts and conversations even at great distances. This belief causes him to fear talking about anything important except when he is convinced that no one is listening.

Maria Vasilievna

Maria Vasilievna (vah-SIH-lyehv-nah), the elder Sinyavsky’s wife. An archetypal Russian woman with strength that arises from necessity, she patiently bears her husband’s imprisonment, rears their son alone, and brings food and comfort to her incarcerated spouse.

Efim Bobko

Efim Bobko (yeh-FIHM BOB-koh), an orphan. He is grimly serious, nonintellectual, and slowly methodical in saving money. The son of farmers dispossessed during the collectivization, Efim, with his parents’ blessing, escapes from the train taking his family into exile and ends up in Moscow. There he tells the elder Sinyavsky that he is merely lost and cannot remember where his home is. Sinyavsky arranges for Efim to live in an orphanage and provides him with a semblance of a home while trying in vain to find Efim’s family. Efim grows up in the orphanage, eventually serves in the war, and dies some time afterward from shock and starvation.


Hélène, the daughter of a French diplomat who arranges for her to study in a Soviet university. Her undeceitful nature, coupled with modesty, charms everyone whom she meets. With a keen mastery of Russian, she maintains an idealistic worldview while successfully completing the obligatory courses on Marxism-Leninism. Soviet authorities try to subvert her by coercing Sinyavsky into proposing to her. Sinyavsky reveals the plan to Hélène, and together they orchestrate a quarrel to ensure her safety. Later, she becomes the courier for taking Sinyavsky’s manuscripts to the West.


Seryozha (sehr-YOH-zhah), Sinyavsky’s childhood friend and hero. A prodigy of artistic talent, he is capable of expressing himself in pointed verse and has a heartfelt appreciation for art. Women in his life quickly discern the cowardly streak in him that leads him to denounce friends and compatriots to the authorities. This untrustworthiness leads Hélène and Sinyavsky to dissemble before him to convince the authorities that they have quarreled.

Viktor Aleksandrovich Pakhomov

Viktor Aleksandrovich Pakhomov (ah-lehk-SAN-droh-vihch pah-KHOH-mov), a lieutenant colonel and interrogator for the Komitet Gosudarstvennoi Bezopasnosti (KGB). Pakhomov skillfully utilizes a mixture of humanitarian pleas, threats, lies, suggestions, and logic to bring Sinyavsky to the point of capitulation without having to resort to physical violence.

The Characters

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 508

Reality, in the traditional sense of events and people, plays a very secondary role in Sinyavsky’s autobiographical tale. Characters are not, for the most part, realistically developed, nor, apart from the narrator, do they have continuing roles throughout the narrative. Each major figure serves as the focal point of one of the “nights,” but their images are sometimes very diffuse. In “The House of Meetings,” in which Sinyavsky’s beloved wife visits him in the camp, she remains shadowy and remote for the reader. Helene, who plays an enormous role in Sinyavsky’s personal and moral development, is equally abstract: a symbol of purity, a damsel in distress, but not a living person.

Sinyavsky-Tertz, whose consciousness holds the whole together, is the only fully developed character. The narrative takes Sinyavsky’s life as the illegal Abram Tertz as its subject: how Sinyavsky became Tertz, who, incidentally, is listed as the sole author of the original Russian edition. Tertz is Sinyavsky’s Doppelganger, his fantasy double. Sinyavsky, physically unimpressive, walleyed, describes himself as “an honest intellectual, given to compromise and the solitary contemplation of life.” In contrast, Abram Tertz is the legendary hero of an underworld ballad about the thieves’ quarter in the Jewish section of Odessa, a criminal world with its own incorruptible code of honor. Tertz is everything Sinyavsky is not: thief, gambler, a cool, calculating figure only too willing to slip a knife into someone’s side. Sinyavsky’s use of the Tertz figure as his double has thematic resonance: the inherently dissident (criminal) nature of real art. Even more to the point is that the Sinyavsky/Tertz relationship mirrors the theme of the interpenetration of reality and fantasy that is central to the book.

Two other characters stand out: Sinyavsky’s father and Seryozha. As the aging narrator sits in his Paris apartment, he reflects on various episodes from his father’s unhappy life and his growing sense of identity with his father. First arrested for political activities in czarist times, Donat Evgenievich felt betrayed by the duplicity of the Communist government. An impractical idealist, he moved from wretched job to job, but nevertheless strove to instill his sense of ideals and honor in his son. It is his arrest that sows doubt in the mind of his orthodox son, and his madness that prompts the narrator’s seminal reflections on the murky relationship between delusion and reality.

The most enigmatic character is Seryozha. A brilliantly gifted aesthete, Seryozha started Sinyavsky on the intellectual odyssey that led to the speculative artist-thinker and modernist. Other aspects of their relationship had equally important but more dire consequences. Episodes from Seryozha’s life reflect a curious, disinterested viciousness. Eventually he denounces two young and innocent historians, and, perhaps, even Sinyavsky, to the KGB. These acts are not politically motivated, for Seryozha is as apolitical as he is amoral. Sinyavsky is fascinated by the personality of his longtime friend, who plays such a double-edged role in his life. In some sense, Sinyavsky sees elements of himself in Seryozha.

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