Mikhail Elizarov was born in 1973 in Ivano-Frankovsk, Ukraine and could hardly remember the Soviet epoch of the generation of his parents and grand-parents. However, in 2007 this young writer wrote a book which would come to be associated with the Lost Generation of Soviet people and won the 2008 Russian Booker Prize. It was the fourth and largest book of the bright debutant of the 90′s and in essence the first major post-Soviet novel showing the reaction of the generation of the 30’s to the world in which they lived.
The title of the book, Библиотекарь ( The Librarian), deceptively conjures up the expectation of perhaps some quiet evening reading. Indeed, The Librarian is a novel about books, about the mystical powers of the written word. In the beginning, one hardly expects the strange turbulence which books such as this can create including the violent refusal of the readers of the books by the obscure writer Gromov to recognize the end of the epoch, and an almost Kafkaesque end to the book. Gromov’s books had the magical powers to change the person who read them and readers started to organize the “libraries” or armies to fight for these books.
The Librarian starts with a quotation from The Foundation Pit by Andrei Platonov. And in some sense it is the continuance of the ideas of the great and tragic book by Platonov about lives spent in vain.”The worker must fully understand that baskets and engines can be made as necessary, but it’s not possible to simply make a song or a sense of excitement. The song is more valuable than mere things…” Andrey Platonov
“The writer Dmitry Alexandrovich Gromov (1910-1981) lived his final days in complete obscurity. His books completely disappeared in the debris of Lethe, and when political disasters destroyed the Soviet motherland, it appeared as though there was nobody left to remember Gromov.
Barely anybody read Gromov. Of course the editors who determined the political loyalty of texts and the critics read it. But it was unlikely for somebody to be worried about and interested in titles like “Proletarian,”(1951) “Fly, Happiness!”(1954), “Narva”, (1965),”On the Roads of Labor” (1968), “The Silver Flat-Water,”(1972) or “The Calm Grass”( 1977).
The biography of Gromov went side by side with the development of the socialist fatherland. He finished middle school and pedagogical college and worked as executive secretary in the factory newspaper’s editorial board. The purges and the repression did not touch Gromov; he quietly endured until June of ‘41 before he was mobilized. He came as a military journalist to the front. In the winter of ‘43 Gromov‘s hands were frostbitten; the left wrist was saved but the right was amputated.
So all of Gromov’s books were created by the enforced lefthander. After the victory Gromov moved the family from the Tashkent evacuation to Donbas and worked at the city newspaper’s editorial board until his retirement.
Gromov started to write late, as a mature forty-year-old man. He often addressed the theme of the formation of the country, glorified the cotton being of the provincial cities, towns and villages, wrote about mines, factories, the boundless Virgin Soil and harvest battles. The heroes of his books were usually the Chairmen of the Kolkhozes, red directors, soldiers returning from the front, the widows keeping their love and civil courage, the pioneers and Komsomol members – strong, cheerful, and ready for heroic labor. Good triumphed with painful regularity: the metallurgic factories were built in record time, the recent student during his sixth month internship at the factory became a skilled specialist, the plant exceeded the plan and accepted the new one, and the grain in the fall flowed by the golden mountains to the Kolkhoz’s granaries. Evil was rehabilitated or went to prison.” …
….”Although Gromov published more than a half-million copies of his books, only several copies survived in the club’s libraries in distant villages, hospitals, ITK, orphanages, or otherwise rotting in the basements between the materials of the party’s congresses and serials of Lenin’s collected works.
And yet Gromov had dedicated fans. They scoured the country collecting surviving books, and would do anything for them. In the normal life Gromov’s books had the titles about some flat waters and grasses. However, Gromov’s collectors used significantly different titles – the Book of the Power, The Book of Strength, The Book of Rage, The Book of Patience, The Book of Joy, The Book of Memory, The Book of Meaning…”
Copyright Mikhail Elizarov
Translated by Elena Dimov, edited by Margarita Dimova
Translations of the excerpts from the works by the contemporary writers are used in educational purposes for students of modern Russian literature or for literary criticism only.