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Capsule Review

The Readers of Novyi Mir: Coming to Terms With the Stalinist Past

In This Review

The Readers of <i>Novyi Mir</i>: Coming to Terms with the Stalinist Past
The Readers of <i>Novyi Mir</i>: Coming to Terms with the Stalinist Past
By Denis Kozlov
Harvard University Press, 2013, 442 pp. $55.00 Purchase

In repressive societies, literature often carries a weight that it does not in free countries. The principal venue in the post-Stalinist Soviet Union for reflections -- narrow at first and then inexorably widening -- on the Soviet Union’s history was the venerated literary journal Novyi Mir (New World). The journal shot to prominence in 1953 with its publication of an essay on sincerity in literature, written by the critic Vladimir Pomerantsev. Western literary critics accustomed to scarcely a ripple of attention might find it hard to believe, but the piece stirred a storm of controversy in newspapers, universities, and even factories. More than 700 letters flooded the journal’s offices, some of them longer than 30 handwritten pages. Other provocations followed, each pushing deeper into the dehumanized reality of the Soviet experience and each generating agitated responses. With the opening of the archives of the journal and of its bureaucratic keepers, Kozlov gained access to tens of thousands of unpublished letters from readers as well as the records of editorial meetings and accounts of the authorities scrambling to respond to the latest controversies. This fine history reveals the society-changing power of what Kozlov calls “the relationship between texts and readers.”

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