Re: [OPE-L] Kurt Vonnegut's humanism was popular in the Soviet Union

From: Paul Cockshott (clyder@GN.APC.ORG)
Date: Fri May 25 2007 - 16:16:52 EDT

His player Piano was also a very insightful critique of 1950s or 60s USA
despite being published in 1948

Jurriaan Bendien wrote:
> Russian readers, perhaps, mourn Kurt Vonnegut more than others.
> By Victor Sonkin
> Published: Moscow Times, April 20 2007
> When Kurt Vonnegut died last week, it sent powerful ripples through
> Russia,
> even in these days of declining readership. The generation that grew
> up in
> the Soviet Union in the 1970s and '80s listed Vonnegut among their
> favorite
> authors. There were at least four reasons for that.
> One was Vonnegut's life story and his aversion to war. Enlisted in the
> U.S.
> Army during World War II, he was captured by the Germans and was one of a
> handful of American POWs who survived the Allied bombing of Dresden in
> 1945;
> he was later freed by Soviet troops. This experience formed the core
> of his
> novel "Slaughterhouse-Five." Throughout the postwar era, both official
> Soviet propaganda and popular feelings were strongly antiwar (even the
> infamous Afghan campaign was never heralded in belligerent terms), so
> Vonnegut was in tune with the nation's mood.
> Another reason was that he wrote science fiction, one of the few ways for
> writers to address important issues that would have been censored in
> other
> genres. "Cat's Cradle" was about scientists' (and society's)
> responsibility;
> the seminal short story "Harrison Bergeron" showed how egalitarianism
> could
> turn into tyranny. Such issues, taboo in everyday Soviet writing,
> could be
> smuggled in through science fiction and enjoyed considerable success.
> Third was Vonnegut's style. This usually gets lost in translation, but
> Vonnegut was lucky to have Rita Rait-Kovalyova as his translator. In
> one of
> Sergei Dovlatov's satirical sketches, someone asks him who has the best
> prose style in Russian. He says, "Rita Rait," and the reaction is,
> "You mean
> Vonnegut in Russian is better than Fedin? How awful." (Konstantin
> Fedin was
> an official Soviet writer and bureaucrat.)
> Finally, it was just sheer chance. No book by a living foreign author,
> especially an American, could appear in the Soviet Union without the
> blessing of the Party. Vonnegut was, in a sense, authorized. This
> explains
> the extent of his popularity, which other authors of a comparable
> caliber,
> such as Saul Bellow or Joseph Heller, did not achieve here.
> In a 2006 interview, he said: "The Army kept me on because I could
> type, so
> I was typing other people's discharges and stuff. And my feeling was,
> 'Please, I've done everything I was supposed to do. Can I go home now?'
> That's what I feel right now. I've written books. Lots of them.
> Please, I've
> done everything I'm supposed to do. Can I go home now?"
> Vonnegut has gone home. Russians, perhaps, mourn him more than others;
> his
> books have been encouraging and educating them for several decades.

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