“In theory one would think that power belongs to brute force. In fact, this is not the case at all: power is wielded by the magician, by the man with subtle sleight of hand. It belongs to the light-fingered cutpurse. Power belongs to art.”
–Andrei Sinyavsky (1925-1997). Excerpted from A Voice From The Chorus; translated by Kyril FitzLyon and Max Hayward.
In my senior year of high school, lingering in Miami High’s library, I began noticing these interesting names on book spines: Zamyatin, Voznesensky, Mihajlov–to name a few.
I’d been introduced to Russian writing courtesy of a very, very shambolic World Literature class. And over the fateful summer of 1982, I introduced myself to the work of Alexander Solzhenitsyn (One Day In The Life of Ivan Denisovich) and the collected stories of Nikolai Gogol.
One book I read during that final year of HS: a slightly acrid, bisque-paged collection of essays by a Bulgarian writer, Mihajlo Mihajlov, titled Russian Themes. And I came across a strange name in those essays: Abram Tertz, a fiction writer whose work had to be smuggled out of the USSR and back again. The more I read about him, the more I wanted to read his stories.
That would not happen, however, for several years. In which time I learned that “Abram Tertz” was a pseudonym for Andrei Sinyavsky, and that, along with a contemporary of his (Yuli Daniel, aka “Nikolai Arzhak”), he was arrested, tried and sentenced to seven years in Soviet labor camps.
But nothing prepared me for A Voice From The Chorus, culled from the letters which he sent, from camp, to his wife, Maria. It was a tour de force: musings on art, on prison life, on whatever caught his interest. And I had to read it, again and again.
And it is a book that I reread even now–a fascinating glimpse into the Brezhnev years, the persecution of writers and artists after Stalin’s death, and what moves a writer to craft and create.