Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

In September, 1965, a Soviet literary scholar named Andrei Sinyavsky, who was about to celebrate his fortieth birthday, was arrested and charged with subversion. Beginning in 1959, manuscripts of several works by Sinyavsky had been smuggled to the West, where they were published under the pseudonym Abram Tertz. These works included a literary manifesto, Chto takoe sotsialisticheskii realizm (1959; On Socialist Realism, 1960); a volume of short fiction, Fantasticheskie povesti (1961; Fantastic Stories, 1963); and two short novels, Sud idyot (1960; The Trial Begins, 1960) and Lyubimov (1964; The Makepeace Experiment, 1965). A small collection of aphorisms and reflections, Mysli vrasplokh (1966; Unguarded Thoughts, 1972), first appeared in the American periodical The New Leader a few months before Sinyavsky’s arrest, under the title “Thought Unaware”; this work was particularly important for its revelation of Sinyavsky’s devout Russian Orthodox faith.

There had been considerable speculation in the West concerning the identity of the mysterious Abram Tertz, and Sinyavsky’s trial, in February, 1966, provoked international protest. (Yuli Daniel, another writer whose works had appeared pseudonymously in the West, was tried at the same time.) Receiving a seven-year sentence, Sinyavsky was sent to Dubrovlag, a complex of labor camps about three hundred miles east of Moscow, where there were sawmills and factories for producing furniture. It was during this time (he served more than six years of his sentence) that Sinyavsky wrote the bulk of A Voice from the Chorus.

The form of the book reflects the circumstances of its composition. In the labor...

(The entire section is 725 words.)