The Island of Crimea

by Vassily Aksyonov

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Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 406

The theme of generational conflict underpins this novel. As in Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons, Andrei and Arseny cannot understand each other’s political reasoning. Aksyonov adds a new dimension with the grandson, Anton, who is misunderstood by his father but who finds a sympathetic ear in his grandfather. Arseny is representative of the victory of the mythical Crimea over the Soviet Union: He is a fighter. Andrei is the intellectual who sees the Crimea as an extension of the Soviet Union, although they have been separated by sixty years of history. He greets the Soviet Union as representative of Lenin’s ideals, not Stalin’s brutalities. Anton is the twentieth century ideal: youth, which knows no allegiance or boundaries but which is interested in all humankind. The elder Arseny’s death is symbolic of the death of the country, while the birth of his great-grandson Arseny, on the same day, is a new beginning for Crimea.

The Soviet political system is the other major preoccupation of the novel. The independent country of Crimea highlights the Stalinist past and present of the Soviet Union and illustrates an alternative, what “might have been.” A sense of Russian nationalism causes the Crimeans to vote for the reunification. The people are blissfully unaware of the political realities of the Soviet state until the military invasion takes place. Aksyonov plays democracy off against socialism by creating a situation in which the Russian past seems more alluring than the present realities of a post-Stalin Soviet Union. The Crimea buries itself in an unwillingness to look across its border. Andrei tells the Crimeans that their economy will only be enhanced by the Soviet Union instead of being destroyed. The people listen and give their democracy its final blow in voting to join the Soviet Union, and with that Andrei realizes the enormity of his political naivete.

Nowhere in the novel is Aksyonov’s political theme more eloquently stated than in Andrei’s article on the one hundredth anniversary of Stalin’s birth. Aksyonov calls Stalin a nonentity with no redeeming value. The article proceeds in building a colossus whose power and control over the Russian people continues. Aksyonov sees two choices for the Soviet Union: Either the Soviet Union breaks the shackles of Stalinism or the terror of Stalinism will live on, fueled by other nonentities to come, who will build on the grave of Stalin and feed on his decaying bones.

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