Friday, October 20, 2006

The Exiled Muse

Just as in the years of the Cold War, many Russian authors and writers continue to make their home in the West - whether in Europe or in North America. The fall of the Communist system does not seem to have had much effect in this regard. An essay in Haaretz examines the new wave of Russian literary talent, and notes how in many cases Russian authors choose to abandon their own language in favour of the language of the country or countries they have moved to. Examples include the Berlin-based Vladimir Kaminer, the slightly older André Makine, who writes in French and has been awarded the Prix Goncourt and the Prix Medicis, and U.S. and Canada-resident authors such as Lara Vapnyar and the Russian-Latvian David Bezmozgis. In addition to the writers mentioned in the essay, one could also list the Finland-based Zinaida Lindén, who writes in Swedish (though she also continues to publish work in Russian). As the essay makes clear, the Russian literary scene in Israel constitutes something of an exception to the rule, as there most Russian-speaking authors still choose to write and publish their work almost exclusively in Russian.

A Russian-Israeli literary critic quoted in the essay notes that both the "exiles" and those authors who still remain in Russia share a preoccupation with fantasy and post-modern styles of writing, perhaps, she suggests, because "in Russia, the reality is so fantastical...that realist literature can't quite capture it anymore."

"...Russian writers are absolutely up to date on what's happening in the world. They're not nostalgic at all. The fondness for science fiction that always existed in the Soviet era has only grown since then. Back then, it was the only way to do satire, and it still exists today, because satires about the Soviet government are still successful. This happens because Russia has not been truly freed from dictatorial government. Vladimir Putin is still thought of today as a dictator in disguise."

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