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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 237

This novel by Sinyavsky, published in 1960, is a strong critique of Soviet control over Russian citizens, especially regarding censorship and lack of freedom of the press. Due to the scrutiny of the totalitarian regime in Russia at the time, Sinyavsky wrote under the pseudonym of Abram Tertz and had his novels published in the West. His novel entitled On Socialist Realism exposed constrained and unjust living conditions under Communism; he was arrested, tried, and sentenced for his opinions. He then served six years in a harsh labor camp for "his crimes."

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The Trial Begins is a compilation of notes and documents secretly recorded about that private trial of Sinyavsky (and another Russian dissident, Yuli Daniel) for his supposed treasonous acts of questioning the power of the Soviet government. The novel exposed intentional efforts by the Soviet government to use propaganda to sabotage the trial of the two defendants and to quash the public and international outcry for justice for the men. The book reveals that there was no Soviet law at the time which prevented the publishing of Soviet writers's works abroad. As citizens in the Soviet Union and around the world demanded freedom of speech and press, public pressure mounted for release of the men, which sadly did not take place.

The Trial Begins is a compelling commentary on the rising samizdat press and growing solidarity for human rights around the world during the post-Stalin era.

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 877

The Trial Begins is a tale of Soviet life in the last few months before the death of Soviet tyrant Joseph Stalin. The novella’s historical backdrop is the paranoid dictator’s last purge, the “doctors’ plot,” of an alleged cabal of physicians (mostly Jewish) who planned to assassinate high Party officials. The plot, hatched by Stalin’s security services and exposed as fraudulent after his death, was in fact a campaign against Soviet Jews, euphemistically labeled “rootless cosmopolitans.”

As the novella opens, the writer-narrator sits in his room reflecting upon the recent visit of two plainclothesmen who searched his room. They presage the supernatural visitation of the Master (Stalin), a huge phantasmagoric figure who looms over the Moscow dawn and points out to the narrator the figure of his “beloved and faithful servant,” Prosecutor Vladimir Petrovich Globov: “Follow him,...defend him with your life. Exalt him!” The story that follows is the narrator’s unsuccessful attempt to celebrate Globov.

Globov is preparing his case against Dr. Rabinovich, an abortionist. Meanwhile, Globov’s wife, Marina, is meeting her suitor, Yury Karlinsky. Condemned to spend the day alone, Globov talks with his son by an earlier marriage, Seryozha, who has attracted undesirable attention at school with questions about “just” and “unjust” wars and other moral issues. Globov brushes aside the boy’s concerns, saying “The aim sanctifies the means, it justifies every sort of sacrifice.”

A few days later, a nude Marina does her morning exercises before the mirror and narcissistically admires her beauty, which is unspoiled by childbearing. That evening at her birthday party, a guest offers a toast to Marina’s future daughter, a thought that elates Globov. The party ends badly when Globov, incensed by Karlinsky’s intimacy with Marina as they dance, “accidentally” knocks over the record player. The couple has a bitter fight, in which Marina gloatingly tells Globov that she has just had an abortion.

Embittered by his wife and troubled by his son’s dangerous unorthodoxy, Globov prepares for the Rabinovich trial by making an imaginary speech in the empty nocturnal courtroom. Rabinovich is guilty not merely of abortion; he is undermining the Soviet state. Wandering the empty court building Globov finds graffiti in the women’s cloakroom. Unlike his hero, the narrator is enchanted with the beauty of these simple human words. As he muses, the ethereal voice of his Master sternly corrects him: “A word can only be an accusation.” All humanity is on trial, and the trial is called “history.”

Seryozha has decided that only world revolution can bring about universal justice, and he attempts to rally his school friends to form a secret society. Only Katya turns up at the meeting at the Moscow Zoo, however, where they are observed by two plainclothesmen. Meanwhile, Karlinsky continues his seduction while visiting an art museum with Marina. Globov simultaneously dreams of their assignation, but his dream segues into a guided tour of the museum led by Rabinovich, who shows him a great pulsing brain which produces “only great ideas and supreme purposes.” These, Rabinovich says, give rise to the dialects of history. The doctor-guide then shows how “supreme purposes” (ends) have invariably been perverted by the ill means used to attain them: Christianity was subverted by the Inquisition; the Renaissance’s creative individualism ended in cutthroat capitalism; and Communism was corrupted by what? The answer, Stalinism, is only implied.

Seryozha is soon arrested. During questioning, his interrogator shows him the masses of ordinary people on the street below. They are on trial, but Seryozha is already condemned. Globov, over the protests of Ekaterina Petrovna, Seryozha’s maternal grandmother, has abandoned the boy to his fate. In a drunken rage, the teetotaler Globov smashes up his apartment with a sword, stopping only at a bust of Stalin, to whom he makes his speech of summation: “Master, the enemies are in flight. They have killed my [unborn] daughter and seized my son. My wife has betrayed me.... But I stand before you, wounded and forsaken as I am, and say: Our goal is reached.”

It is the day of Stalin’s funeral. Globov finds himself caught in the huge crowd gathered to view Stalin’s body. A giant hand seizes Globov and uses him to cudgel the crowd, and Katya falls under a truck. The crowd turns on Globov, crying out; “Where’s the Public Prosecutor? They ought to be tried, people like that.”

In the epilogue, some three years later, the narrator, Seryozha, and Rabinovich find themselves in the same prison camp. The narrator has been imprisoned for maliciously presenting his “positive heroes” (the Globovs and Karlinsky) “in their least typical aspects” and for giving away state secrets. He has failed to carry out his late Master’s charge. While digging a ditch, Rabinovich finds a rusted dagger with a crucifix-like handle. He muses that God, formerly the point, the purpose, has become the handle, the means. Ends and means have once again been reversed. Holding the dagger to the sky, the half-mad doctor rants: “In the name of God! With the help of God! In the place of God! Against God.... And now there is no God, only dialectics. Forge a new dagger for the new Purpose at once!”

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