Thomas Seifrid on “Companions to Russian Literature”

This is a guest post by Thomas Seifrid, editor of the series “Companions to Russian Literature.”

This series features volumes designed to enrich the reading of key works in the history of Russian literature by providing essential commentary on the author’s biography, intellectual engagements and influences, as well as the historical and political context in which the work arose. ASP Companions are accessible guides for general readers without knowledge of Russian or extensive familiarity with Russian literature and history, while also providing an au courant introduction to advanced study. Each volume is written by an individual scholar with recognized expertise on the work, or by a group of scholars who examine the writer or work from a variety of perspective. Volumes in this series provide information essential to understanding the text in its cultural and historical context, while also illuminating the most pertinent interpretive issues and providing a useful bibliography for further study.

Dirk Uffelmann’s Vladimir Sorokin’s Discourses: A Companion provides commentary essential to understanding one of Russia’s most prolific and controversial living writers. Uffelmann places Sorokin’s early work in the context of the Moscow underground artistic and literary movements of the late Soviet period, then examines the range of discourses with which Sorokin has engaged during his (still evolving) career: from the phenomenon of collective speech in the early masterpiece The Queue to his engagements with literary conventions like pulp fiction and the traditions of the Russian novel and on to his current involvements in new media and civic concerns in post-Soviet Russia.

A Reader’s Companion to Mikhail Bulgakov’s ‘The Master and Margarita’ by distinguished Bulgakov scholar and biographer J.A.E. Curtis provides astute commentary on the novel’s major characters, plot events, and unusual binary structure.  Curtis prefaces her annotative overview with two biographical chapters, then extends her discussion of the work’s larger meanings with commentary on the situation of the writer in the Soviet Union in the period when Bulgakov wrote his novel, on the religious questions raised in the text, and on Bulgakov’s use of political satire. Particularly valuable for readers interested in the novel’s complex genesis are her discussions of the novel’s variant drafts and publication history, and of the several existing English translations of it.

Ksana Blank’s “The Nose”: A Stylistic and Critical Companion to Nikolai Gogol’s Story leads students with advanced knowledge of Russian as well as experienced scholars through the text of Nikolai Gogol’s absurdist masterpiece “The Nose.” Part I focuses on numerous instances of the writer’s wordplay, which is meant to surprise and delight the reader, but which often is lost in English translations. It traces Gogol’s descriptions of everyday life in St. Petersburg, familiar to the writer’s contemporaries and fellow citizens but hidden from the modern Western reader. Part II presents an overview of major critical interpretations of the story in Gogol scholarship from the time of its publication to the present, as well as its connections to the works of Shostakovich, Kafka, Dalí, and Kharms.

The forthcoming Companion to Victor Pelevin, edited by Sofya Khagi, will extend the series reach into contemporary Russian letters in a series of essays devoted to the works of Russia’s most visible post-modern writer, author of such best-selling and influential works as Chapaev and the Void and Generation ‘П’. Keep an eye out for this volume in the near future.

Thomas Seifrid (PhD Cornell University) is professor of Slavic studies at the University of Southern California. He is the author of Andrei Platonov: Uncertainties of Spirit (Cambridge University Press, 1992), The Word Made Self: Russian Writings on Language, 18601930 (Cornell University Press, 2005), A Companion to Andrei Platonov’s “The Foundation Pit” (2009), and numerous articles on Russian literature and culture.