During the late 1980’s Tatyana Tolstaya (tohl-STI-yah) came to be considered one of the greatest talents in Russian literature. She and her six siblings, all of whom grew up with unusual privileges for the time, were grandchildren of the historical novelist Aleksei Nikolaevich Tolstoy, himself a relative of Leo Tolstoy. Tolstaya’s other grandfather was Mikhail Lozinskii, a minor poet and well-known translator.
Tolstaya came of age during the period in the Soviet Union that came to be referred to as “the stagnation,” years during the Brezhnev era that show remarkably little original prose literature. Many of the more interesting writers, among them Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Andrei Sinyavsky, and Vasily Aksyonov had already left the country. Others, including Yuri Trifonov and Lidia Chukovskaya, who never left the Soviet Union, were also out of the picture, due to either death or the lack of publishing opportunities. The impoverished monumentalism of the official genre of Socialist Realism had reached its nadir.
After Leonid Brezhnev’s death in 1982 a liberalizing atmosphere began that eventually culminated with the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987 and the period called glasnost, a reference to the opening of the closed, controlled society created by Soviet socialism. It is not coincidental that Tatyana Tolstaya began writing at about this time. In 1983 came the publication of her first story, “Kleem i nozhnitsami” (with glue and scissors), which set the stage for such later stories as “On the Golden Porch.”
The period of openness brought with it the...
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