(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

OPENINGS, copublished in a Russian edition and commissioned by the 1990 Seattle Goodwill Games, represents something of a literary landmark as prominent American and Soviet figures attempt to assess their respective societies. The Soviet essays on art, geography, and history are written by authors of fiction, indicative of the high position that literature occupies in that country. Though the views presented purport to be personal, the diverging political history of the two cultures distinctly colors the perceptions.

Geoffrey Ward in his overview of American history laments that American youth knows a smattering of names and dates, but has no sense of history as an extraordinary story. Yury Nagibin, on the other hand, regrets that much of Russia’s history was lost to its people through centuries of distortion and falsification by autocrats. Elting Morison deplores that American technological advances are not matched by a growth in national wisdom and faults the universities for this imbalance. The Soviet technological account is very different. Alla Melik-Pashaeva reports on talented scientists whose work of discovery was blunted or aborted by the dictatorship. However, when it comes to environmental issues, the essayists on both sides are in full agreement. Barry Lopez and Viktor Astafyev glorify the beauties and expanse of their native land and decry the destruction of nature by political and commercial entities.

Diverse approaches characterize discussion on the creative arts. Eleanor Munro traces the post World War II American art movements and emphasizes the current business aspect of art, while Viktor Potanin stresses the importance of culture as a whole (art, ballet, film, literature, music, poetry, popular arts, religion) in shaping the Russian personality. Joyce Carol Oates’s account of American literary culture is largely descriptive, a valuable guide for Russians unfamiliar with that development. The similarly descriptive survey of Soviet literature by Aleksandr Mulyarchik deals with gulf between censored and repressed works. A difference in attitude is most pronounced in the sports discussion. Gerald Early limits himself to baseball and is critical of its elevation to a national myth, whereas Teymuraz Mamaladze is an unbounded enthusiast of all national sports and considers them the embodiment of personal as well as collective genius. The collection also includes reports on homestays with families. Every section is beautifully illustrated with art and photographs.