Russian literature: World War II to the Present

During World War II, Ehrenburg and Simonov were outstanding reporters. The spirit of friendliness toward the West ended abruptly in 1946 with a campaign initiated by Andrei Zhdanov, a Communist party secretary. Cultural isolationism and rigid party dictatorship of literature were enforced, and the effects on literature were disastrous.

After the death of Stalin in 1953 some writers, previously in disgrace, were returned to favor; those still living were again permitted to publish. Ehrenburg's celebrated novel The Thaw (1954) described the despair of authors condemned to write in accordance with official doctrines. During this period cultural exchange with foreign countries was encouraged. In opposition to patriotic propaganda from orthodox party spokesmen, literature critical of Soviet society was, for a time, warmly received. Andrei Voznesensky and Yevgeny Yevtushenko were widely acclaimed for their nonconformist poetry. Voznesensky was praised for remarkable innovation in poetic form and use of language. Among Yevtushenko's most admired works is Babi Yar, an eloquent protest against Soviet anti-Semitism.

In 1963 the government and the Union of Soviet Writers issued severe reprimands to these and other dissident writers. Pasternak's epic novel Doctor Zhivago (1957), published and received with critical accolades throughout the Western world, was refused publication in the USSR, and the author was compelled by official pressure to decline the Nobel Prize.

After Khrushchev's fall from grace in 1964, the struggle to liberate Soviet writing from political control intensified. Famous writers such as Voznesensky and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn publicly asked for an end to government censorship. Others, including Andrey Sinyavsky and Yuly Daniel, were imprisoned for permitting pseudonymous foreign publication of works critical of the Soviet regime. Solzhenitsyn's first novel, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1962), described life in a concentration camp; its anti-Stalinism was in line with the political climate of 1962. His subsequent works earned him exile from Russia in 1974.

The 1980s saw new religious, even mystical, trends, as in the stories of Tatyana Tolstaya . After the fall of the Soviet regime, Solzhenitsyn returned to his homeland in 1994, twenty years after he had gone into exile. The playwright Mikhail Shatrov (1932–2010), who had been censored during the Soviet era, wrote witheringly of Stalin and pre-glasnost Russia. Meanwhile, younger writers reflected the changed milieu of post-Communist Russia in their pursuit of more personal and less political themes in their prose and poetry.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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