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Russian Literature…from Censorship to Market Demand | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Stacks of books

Moscow- Literature was the first field to be affected by Russia’s political changes in the beginning of the nineties after the authorities granted liberty of expression and restricted the roles of government and factional censorship.

These changes came in line with the Russian community’s need to read banned works of Soviet writers. Some of those writers published their books while in asylum in the West after being accused of national betrayal. At that time, Soviet citizens were banned from traveling abroad unless in special cases, which made them also crave western literature banned under the propaganda of the communist authority.

Since 1986, literature in Russia has seen swift changes and many new fundamental components including Soviet literature, through some soviet writers who continued publishing their writings, trying to converge texts with the community’s drastic shifts; the temporary literature, featuring publications written by writers and novelists of that phase; the banned literature, publications of the pre-communist revolution and novels of soviet writers, which were banned in the soviet phase for political reasons; the translated literature which first focused on social and romantic novels, detective fictions, then moved to political, historical, and scientific books.

In this phase, Russian libraries again received writings and publications from the Silver Era, which extends from the last decade of the 19th century till the third decade of the 20th century; Russia libraries also re-offered novels for writers like Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn, with his novel “Live Not by Lies”, which played a major role in the literature of that time. In 1990, the full version of Solzhenitsyn’s “The Gulag Archipelago” was published for the first time; this novel highlighted the oppression that dominated the Soviet Union from the Bolshevik Revolution till Nikita Khrushchev became prime minister.

Although the nineties liberated Russian literature from censorship, demand played a major role in decision-making. Writers began considering people’s demand for their new novels, in order to achieve lucrative sales.

Russian writers and their novels faced severe competition from western writers and their translated novels. Driven by the need to have insights on unfamiliar issues, the Russian reader gave priority to the western writings and the banned soviet books, which put young Russian novelists under pressure.

The western drama novels found a wide audience in Russia, like the full series of “Gone with the Wind”; the banned soviet novels which emphasized the suffering of the people in the Soviet era were also among the top selections. In line with the mood of the public market, many trends also emerged in the Russian literature at that time: Many novels told stories of Russian gangs with a merge of suspense and detective fiction.

Over the few past years, Russian literature has witnessed a recovery and produced many distinguished novels, which contributed to promoting the contemporary Russian literature led by brilliant names of Russian novelists. Political literature has generally dominated the modern Russian works driven by many important reasons. In this type of literature, writers resort to criticism to feature Russian political history and the current political scene.

Among the most eminent writers of this era is Zakhar Prilepi who wrote many articles and literary research. He was a political activist and worked in many literary forums. He opposed the Kremlin’s politics before the annexation of Crimea. However, he has joined the Moscow-backed national militias fighting in Crimea.

Prilepi’s novels brought him high income. He became among the most important Russian figures in 2014. In 2015, his novel “Obitel” topped the list of most read novels, and in 2016, he was selected as one of the most important contemporary Russian novelists.

Finally, his writings were translated to many languages including English, German, French, Chinese and Danish.
The Russian literature’s industry also saw other eminent novelists like Boris Akunin, Alexei Ivanov and Alisa Ganieva.