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15 November 2018

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Ivan's Daughter

Valentin Rasputin
(Three String Books, $19.95, August)

Rasputin was the leading writer of the so-called “village prose” movement in the Soviet 1970s, and his work was instrumental in offering Russians and foreigners alike an unfiltered, gritty, sense-filled view of Russian provincial and village life. He grappled with the issues of isolation and development, environmentalism and social mores in stories and novels that are full of real characters and beautiful prose.

With the fall of the USSR, Rasputin stopped writing and turned his attention to politics, serving in the Congress of People’s Deputies and as an adviser to Gorbachev. But politics is a world that few artists can stomach, given their tendency to embrace things like fixed ideals, sincere emotions and Truth.

So Rasputin returned to writing both fiction and nonfiction and this volume is a translation of stories and a novella he wrote in this later period of his life. The pieces have all the same grit, realism and beauty of his earlier works, but now the subject matter is more current and recognizable.

In most of the stories, the characters are coming to grips with the tailings and residue of Soviet era destructiveness – not just to the physical environment (Rasputin being one of Russia’s first and most impassioned environmentalists), but to the souls of its people.

To Rasputin, unfettered and unscrupulous commerce, statism, and rootlessness are the newest scourges on the Russian land, yet the saviors are the same as before: family, community, language, and Orthodoxy. And of course strong women.

— Paul E. Richardson

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Reviewed in Russian Life: July/August 2017