Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Russia. Country in which the entire novel is set. In numerous vignettes, an almost fragmentary procession of interconnected scenes, the action moves from one (often fictitious) place to another, as if in passing, underscoring the whirlwind nature of the Russian Revolution. The narrative opens in the town of Ordynin and is generally centered there, but the overall stage is much larger than that.

While the fragmented plot does not allow for a unifying picture, it reflects the fragmentary nature of the happenings in various parts of the country. What gradually becomes clear is that Boris Pilnyak is not attempting to describe the revolution so much as voice his own views about it. He welcomes the revolution but in his own, unorthodox way. He was one of those considered “fellow travelers”—those who sympathized with the revolution without supporting it wholeheartedly or who had rather personal and often misguided understandings of it. Pilnyak saw the revolution as a clash between East and West in Russia, with Bolshevism, by getting rid of autocratic rule, bringing Russia back to its roots. Thus, his novel pits the spiritual culture of Russia against the mechanical culture of the West. The Old Russia of religious fervor and spiritualism, closeness to Mother Nature, and almost pagan adherence to the peasant way of life was almost obliterated by the West-leaning leaders, beginning with Peter the Great. Pilnyak failed to...

(The entire section is 593 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Brown, Edward J. “Boris Pilnyak: Biology and History.” In Russian Literature Since the Revolution. New York: Collier Books, 1963. Considers The Naked Year a virtuoso performance both in its symphonic structure of themes and ideas and in being a presentation of the primitive and elemental forces of the Revolution. Good survey of Pilnyak’s works.

Maguire, Robert. “The Pioneers: Pil’nyak and Ivanov.” In Red Virgin Soil: Soviet Literature in the 1920’s. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1968. A useful discussion of Pilnyak’s role in Russian literature of the 1920’s, especially of his iconoclastic approach to literature. Asserts that Pilnyak lacks greatness but was influential in shaping the Russian literature of his time.

Reck, Vera T. Boris Pil’niak: A Soviet Writer in Conflict with the State. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1975. Extensive account of Pilnyak’s celebrated troubles with the authorities, to whom Stalin gave the tone by declaring that Pilnyak expressed his anarchism already in The Naked Year.

Slonim, Marc. “Boris Pilnyak: The Untimely Symbolist.” In Soviet Russian Literature: Writers and Problems 1917-1977. 2d rev. ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1977. Substantive historical survey of Pilnyak’s works and his place in the early Russian literature of the Soviet period.

Struve, Gleb. Russian Literature Under Lenin and Stalin, 1917-1953. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1971. Contains a brief but excellent account of Pilnyak’s writings, including The Naked Year, and of his conflicts with the state that eventually led to his death.