So Victor and I just finished reading a wonderful book by Andrea Pitzer, entitled “The Secret History of Vladimir Nabokov,” which actually traced the lives of Nabokov and Alexander Solzhenitsyn, two Russian writers and emigrants whose names and books became famous all over the world.
Since both writers lived during the time when Russia was a deeply controlling, communist state, they both became the “accidental” observers of the history/society of that period, and grappled with it, in very different ways, in their books. Solzhenitsyn chose a more direct description of the conditions of the Russian state, while Nabokov chose a more metaphoric route. Both approaches have their own merits, but this tangent would require its own blog entry, so for now, I’ll leave it at that and get to the point. 🙂
What really struck me was how dedicated they both were to their art and craft, regardless of the circumstances around them. Solzhenitsyn was sent to a labor camp, had to contend with Russian censorship and party officials, and smuggle his manuscripts out of the country in order to tell his and others’ stories of the gulags. Nabokov kept the themes of government oppression, illegal imprisonment, and the manipulation of someone’s life by an authoritarian regime alive. And this despite the fact that he lived abroad and had to eventually switch into English to be able to publish and sell his books. Not that the English audience did not care, but Nabokov’s themes were certainly not the day-to-day concerns they had to grapple with.
The writers’ personal struggles are not usually exposed along with the novels/non-fiction they write. However, knowing the socio-historical and cultural context in which the books have been created makes me appreciate them and their authors even more. The books then become not the end-product of the authors’ labor, but an invitation to explore in detail their creators’ lives.
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