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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 162

The Trial Begins is narrated by a writer whose home is being searched by the Soviet police. The officers find his story about the protagonist and, dissatisfied with the writers work, send him to Siberia.

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The protagonist of The Trial Begins is Vladimir Petrovich Globov. He is a prosecutor and an ardent follower of Joseph Stalin. Vladimir's principles are called in to question when his wife Marina is given an abortion by a Jewish doctor and his son Seryozha is sent to a prison in Siberia.

Dr. Rabinovich is the Jewish doctor who performs Marina's abortion.

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Yury Karlinsky is a defense attorney, the man with whom Marina had an affair, and the father of the aborted fetus.

After Seryozha's arrest, Globov is visited frequently by his ex-mother-in-law Ekaterina, who wants her grandson to be released.

Katya is a friend of Seryozha's, and she shares his desires for a utopian society. She protests his arrest and dies after being trampled by a crowd.

Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 713

Vladimir Petrovich Globov

Vladimir Petrovich Globov (vlah-DIH-mihr peh-TROH-vihch GLOH-bov), a public prosecutor during Soviet tyrant Joseph Stalin’s last round of purges. These purges were aimed at Jewish citizens, who were referred to as “rootless cosmopolitans” and “enemies of the people.” A man with a “large spreading trunk” and “hands as heavy as oars,” Globov is an unquestioning follower of the Master’s (Stalin’s) will. He discovers that Dr. S. Y. Rabinovich, a Jewish physician he has prosecuted for alleged activities against the Soviet state, had performed an abortion for Marina, Globov’s wife, who is having an affair with Yury Karlinsky, a public defense attorney. Globov is severely bothered by this deprivation of his embryonic “daughter,” yet he does not protest when his adolescent son, Seryozha, is arrested and sentenced to Siberia for an innocent involvement in political idealism.


Marina, the second wife of Prosecutor Globov. She is an “ideally constructed” woman who spends much of her time trying various cosmetics to stop time’s inexorable erosion of her beauty. She seeks the attention of her husband’s colleagues as a means of assuring herself of her powers of attraction. In a moment of spite, she announces to him that she has had an abortion. Without any real passion, she submits to Karlinsky’s seduction. The arrest of her stepson, Seryozha, does not concern her, although she does later send a box of candy to him in Siberia.

Yury Karlinsky

Yury Karlinsky (kahr-LIHN-skee), a public defense attorney whose brilliance is frustrated by the Soviet state’s prosecutorial bias. He rationalizes his continual failure by philosophizing that “one man’s justice is another man’s injustice.” To show himself that his words can have an appreciable impact, he sets about to seduce Marina, the prosecutor’s wife. At the moment of his success, he is unable to perform. It is Karlinsky who interprets Seryozha’s immature notes about a communist utopia to be antistate “Trotskyism” and denounces the youth to the authorities.


Seryozha (sehr-YOH-zhah), the teenage son of Prosecutor Globov. In his classes, he questions whether “the end justifies the means” and disquiets his father with discussions of “just and unjust wars.” He confides his doubts about the wisdom of the prevailing political system to his grandmother, Ekaterina Petrovna, and to his admiring schoolmate, Katya, who shows his notes outlining “a new world, communist and radiant,” to Karlinsky. To his father’s embarrassment, he is arrested and sentenced to prison in Siberia.

Dr. S. Y. Rabinovich

Dr. S. Y. Rabinovich (rah-BIH-noh-vihch), a Soviet gynecologist of Jewish extraction who is sentenced to Siberia for being a “rootless cosmopolitan.” The fact that he had performed an abortion on his prosecutor’s wife probably explains his continued confinement in Siberia after the “rehabilitation” of others in his plight. In the epilogue, his mind deteriorates, and he rambles on about “God, history, and ends and means.”

Ekaterina Petrovna

Ekaterina Petrovna (yeh-kah-teh-REE-nah peh-TROHV-nah), the mother of Prosecutor Globov’s first wife and the grandmother of Seryozha. She is a Communist of the old school who is proud of her revolutionary activity. Globov indulges her daily visits to his office and calls her “mother,” but he is frightened by her insistence that he intervene in Seryozha’s unjustified arrest and tells her not to visit him again.


Katya, a young girl and a schoolmate of Seryozha. She shares Seryozha’s dream of a new and just communist society, naïvely reporting the matter to Karlinsky. After Seryozha’s arrest, she writes a note to Karlinsky protesting his denunciation of Seryozha. She is trampled to death by the crowd surging to view the body of the Master, lying in state after his death.

The narrator

The narrator, a Soviet writer whose room is searched by two police agents, who subsequently discover torn-up drafts of this novel in his sewage. He was instructed to write the text that eventually incriminates him by a supernatural vision of Stalin, who requires him to “celebrate” the Master’s “beloved and faithful servant,” Prosecutor Globov. He is arrested for failing to depict Globov and the others “in the fullness of their many-sided working lives” and sentenced to Siberia, where, as he relates in the epilogue, he encounters Seryozha and Dr. Rabinovich.

The Characters

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 461

The nameless, faceless narrator charged with exalting Prosecutor Globov foreshadows the fate of his creator, Andrei Sinyavsky: Both are authors who are arrested, tried, and sentenced to a labor camp. The differences between them, however, are crucial. The narrator tries to carry out his divinely imposed mission but fails, in part because of his inadvertent awareness of the conflict between ends and means that he sees in his assigned characters. He believes in the end (Communism) but, against his own will, is distressed by the subversion and displacement of that goal by corrupting means (Stalinism). He is not a dissident. Andrei Sinyavsky, on the other hand, by virtue of writing The Trial Begins and smuggling it out for publication in the West, is condemning the Soviet system.

Globov, Marina, and Karlinsky constitute a triangle in more than a romantic sense. Globov is a typical Soviet bureaucrat of peasant background. Superficially cultured, he is devoid of moral insight. He is a true believer, and the Master’s dictates are not to be questioned. Karlinsky is a much more interesting (and despicable) character. Cultivated, urbane, witty, he sees the primitive nature of the Stalinist state and society and finds solace in mockery, seduction, and careerism. Marina is completely absorbed in her own beauty and the amusements and comforts it can bring her. The three represent different responses to the moral abyss of Stalinism.

Seryozha and the doomed Katya are the only positive characters. Seryozha naively sets out to right the world’s wrongs (although he too would not be above shooting the recalcitrant in his perfected society). Katya, also troubled by injustice, is even more interested in Seryozha, who is too committed (or naive) to recognize this aspect of their relationship. Ironically, it is Katya’s attempt to save Seryozha that leads to his arrest and, indirectly, to her accidental death at the hands of his father. Seryozha’s grandmother, Ekaterina Petrovna, is an “Old Bolshevik,” one of the idealists who made the Revolution. Although retaining their humanity, these idealists are too blinded by the radiant future to realize what has happened to their dream. Ekaterina’s idealism is one of the elements that motivates Seryozha.

Dr. Rabinovich, part pathos and part joke, is, with his theory of history and argument about means and ends, the primary spokesman for Sinyavsky: part pathos, because of the historic plight of Russian Jews—of which the “doctors’ plot” was a manifestation; part joke, because one Rabinovich (a common Russian Jewish name) is the hero (or butt) of endless Soviet anecdotes. The slightly unsavory depiction of Rabinovich has led to unjustified charges of anti-Semitism. Sinyavsky, an ethnic Russian, chose his Jewish pseudonym, Abram Tertz, partially as a sign of his identification with a persecuted minority, perpetual outsiders.


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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 55

Browning, Deming. Soviet Russian Literature Since Stalin, 1978.

Dalton, Margaret. Andrei Siniavskii and Julii Daniel’: Two Soviet “Heretical” Writers, 1973.

Labedz, Leopold, and Max Hayward, eds. On Trial: The Case of Sinyavsky (Tertz) and Daniel (Arzhak), Documents, 1967.

Lourie, Richard. Letters to the Future: An Approach to Sinyavsky-Tertz, 1975.

Mihajlov, Mihajlo. “Flight from the Test Tube,” in Russian Themes, 1968.

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Critical Essays