Soviet Writers and American Readers



THIs issue is the opening of a window on the present and lively arts of a talented people. In the selection and editing we have avoided as much as possible the didactic, of which there is a great deal in Soviet writing, in favor of that which is creative or factual, and therefore of more interest to American readers.

The editor must set his own rules for any such medley as this: I wished to present material by Russian writers which up till now has not been available to the American public; I wanted it to come from living writers (with the exception of Mayakovsky’s poem, it is all contemporary); and I hoped to strike a fair balance between fiction and poetry on the one hand and reminiscence or matters of fact on the other. Half the content was written in response to my suggestions; the rest was chosen from recent Russian periodicals or books. The Soviet magazines are considerably larger than ours: Novy Mir, the leading literary monthly, comprises 288 pages without advertising and with close-packed type, and in these ampler dimensions the Russian contributors are encouraged to write at a much greater length than is customary with us. Thus, “Uncle Ivan’s Tale,” the episode we have chosen from Sholokhov’s powerful new novel now being serialized in Moscow, is only a portion of one installment. And Samuil Marshak’s account of his sunny and unforgettable meeting with Gorky is but a sampling, though a happy one, of a much longer memoir. Such abridgments were necessary if we were to carry out our intention of publishing at least a score of Soviet authors.

The canons of socialist realism are foreign to our way of thinking, and Western writers are curious to know whether they have fettered Soviet talents. All art is the handmaiden of the state, and in literature the emphasis is on the positive hero and on patriotism and socialist achievement; sex is treated with puritanical restraint, and criticism is leveled at the stupidity or inefficiency of individuals— as in the comedy “The Battle of the Tractors” by Antonov — but never at the state. Yet no one can miss the power of physical attraction in Leonov’s superb story, “The Easter Outing,” and no Western critic can ignore the candid selfquestioning of how high one dares aim in satire and comedy so clearly stated by Akimov, the director of the Leningrad Comedy Theater. American readers, as they judge for themselves, may find in this issue more freedom of thought, power of expression, and diversity of sympathy than they had expected. There is unquestionably a fixity of purpose in the Soviet writing of today, and with that fact one must admit this corollary: the people are hungry for books and information.

Six years ago no magazine here or in the Soviet Union could have published such a number. Does this not suggest that on both sides there has been a shortage in human understanding badly in need of correction, and that only by opening the window can we see?