Soviet Literature - 20th Century - Popular Genres

Popular Genres

Children's literature in Soviet Union was considered a major genre, because of its educational role. A large share of early period children's books were poems: Korney Chukovsky, Samuil Marshak, Agnia Barto were among the most read. "Adult" poets, such as Mayakovsky and Sergey Mikhalkov, contributed to the genre as well. Some of the early Soviet children's prose was loose adaptations of foreign fairy tales unknown in contemporary Russia. Alexey N. Tolstoy wrote Buratino, a light-hearted and shortened adaptation of Carlo Collodi's Pinocchio. Alexander Volkov introduced fantasy fiction to Soviet children with his loose translation of Frank L. Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, published as The Wizard of the Emerald City, and then wrote a series of five sequels, unrelated to Baum. Other notable authors include Nikolay Nosov, Lazar Lagin, Vitaly Bianki.

While fairy tales were relatively free from ideological oppression, the realistic children's prose of the Stalin era was highly ideological and pursued the goal to raise children as patriots and communists. A notable example is Arkady Gaydar, himself a Red Army commander (colonel) in Russian Civil War: his stories and plays about Timur describe a team of young pioneer volunteers who help the eldery and resist hooligans. There was a genre of hero pioneer story, that bore some similarities with Christian genre of hagiography. In Khrushov and Brezhnev times, however, the pressure lightened. Mid- and late Soviet children's books by Eduard Uspensky, Yuri Entin, Viktor Dragunsky bear no signs of propaganda. In the 1970s many of these books, as well as stories by foreign children's writers, were adapted into animation.

Soviet Science fiction, inspired by scientistic revolution, industrialisation, and the country's space pioneering, was flourishing, albeit in the limits allowed by censors. Early science fiction authors, such as Alexander Belyayev, Grigory Adamov, Vladimir Obruchev, Aleksey Nikolayevich Tolstoy, stack to hard science fiction and regarded H. G. Wells and Jules Verne as examples to follow. Two notable exclusions from this trend were Yevgeny Zamyatin, author of dystopian novel We, and Mikhail Bulgakov, who, while using science fiction instrumentary in Heart of a Dog, The Fatal Eggs and Ivan Vasilyevich, was interested in social satire rather than scientistic progress. The two have had problems with publishing their books in Soviet Union.

Since the thaw in the 1950s Soviet science fiction began to form its own style. Philosophy, ethics, utopian and dystopian ideas became its core, and Social science fiction was the most popular subgenre. Although the view of Earth's future as that of utopian communist society was the only welcome, the liberties of genre still offered a loophole for free expression. Books of brothers Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, and Kir Bulychev, among others, are reminiscent of social problems and often include satire on contemporary Soviet society. Ivan Yefremov, on the contrary, arose to fame with his utopian views on future as well as on Ancient Greece in his historical novels. Strugatskies are also credited for the Soviet's first science fantasy, the Monday Begins on Saturday trilogy. Other notable science fiction writers included Vladimir Savchenko, Georgy Gurevich, Alexander Kazantsev, Georgy Martynov, Yeremey Parnov. Space opera was less developed, since both state censors and serious writers watched it unfavorably. Nevertheless, there were moderately successful attempts to adapt space westerns to Soviet soil. The first was Alexander Kolpakov with "Griada", after came Sergey Snegov with "Men Like Gods", among others.

A specific branch of both science fiction and children's books appeared in mid-Soviet era: the children's science fiction. It was meant to educate children while entertaining them. The star of the genre was Bulychov, who, along with his adult books, created children's space adventure series about Alisa Selezneva, a teenage girl from the future. Others include Nikolay Nosov with his books about dwarf Neznayka, Evgeny Veltistov, who wrote about robot boy Electronic, Vitaly Melentyev, Vladislav Krapivin, Vitaly Gubarev.

Mystery was another popular genre. Detectives by brothers Arkady and Georgy Vayner and spy novels by Yulian Semyonov were best-selling, and many of them were adapted into film or TV in 1970's and 1980s.

Village prose is a genre that conveys nostalgic descriptions of rural life. Valentin Rasputin’s 1976 novel, Proshchaniye s Matyoroy (Farewell to Matyora) depicted a village faced with destruction to make room for a hydroelectric plant.

Historical fiction in the early Soviet era included a large share of memoirs, fictionalized or not. Valentin Katayev and Lev Kassil wrote semi-autobiographic books about children's life in Tsarist Russia. Vladimir Gilyarovsky wrote Moscow and Muscovites, about life in pre-revolutionary Moscow. The late Soviet historical fiction was dominated by World War II novels and short stories by authors such as Boris Vasilyev, Viktor Astafyev, Boris Polevoy, Vasil Bykaŭ, among many others, based on the authors' own war experience. Vasily Yan and Konstantin Badygin are best known for their novels on Medieval Rus, and Yury Tynyanov for writing on Russian Empire. Valentin Pikul wrote about many different epochs and countries in an Alexander Dumas-inspired style. In the 1970s there appeared a relatively independent Village Prose, whose most prominent representatives were Viktor Astafyev and Valentin Rasputin.

Any sort of fiction that dealt with the occult, either horror, adult-oriented fantasy or magic realism, was unwelcome in Soviet Russia. Until 1980's very few books in these genres were written, and even fewer were published, although earlier books, such as by Gogol, were not banned. Of the rare exceptions, Bulgakov in Master and Margarita (not published in author's lifetime) and Strugatskies in Monday Begins on Saturday introduced magic and mystical creatures into contemporary Soviet reality to satirize it. Another exception was early Soviet writer Alexander Grin, who wrote romantic tales, both realistic and fantastic.

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