Beyond Tula: A Soviet Pastoral

Beyond Tula: A Soviet Pastoral


Andrei Egunov-Nikolev
Translated by Ainsley Morse

Series: Cultural Revolutions: Russia in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries
ISBN: 9781618119735 (paper)
Pages: 196 pp.
Publication Date: May 2019

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Andrei Egunov-Nikolev’s Beyond Tula is an uproarious romp through the earnestly boring and unintentionally campy world of early Soviet “production” prose, with its celebration of robust workers heroically building socialism. Combining burlesque absurdism and lofty references to classical and Russian High Modernist literature with a rather tongue-in-cheek plot about the struggles of an industrializing rural proletariat, this “Soviet pastoral” actually appeared in the official press in 1931 (though it was quickly removed from circulation). As a renegade classics scholar, Egunov was aware of the expressive potential latent in so-called “light genres”—Beyond Tula is a modernist pastoral jaunt that leaves the reader with plenty to ponder.

Ainsley Morse is a teacher, translator, and scholar of Slavic languages and literatures, primarily Russian. She currently teaches at Pomona College.


The best way to think of [Beyond Tula] is as a kind of layer cake, a book that tries to be an Ancient Greek romance, a Soviet-era production novel, a summer idyll, a parody of various 19th-century Russian tropes and ideas, a sour analysis of human nature, and a homoerotic buddy story, all at the same time. It skips from satire to parody to music-hall comedy (the characters are constantly singing snatches of popular romances) in a way that is dizzying to read and must have been a riot to translate. (Ainsley Morse’s translation is impeccable: enjoyable, coherent, inventive, and at times very funny.) … Beyond Tula is a fine addition to the subgenre of Lucianian satires about nothing much, about mooching and musing, alongside Diderot’s Jacques the Fatalist or Flaubert’s Bouvard et Pécuchet. We are lucky to have it in a forthright and laugh-out-loud funny English translation that pops and bubbles.
— James Womack, Los Angeles Review of Books
The arrival of Andrei Egunov’s prose into the realm of English language once again signifies that the introduction of Russian Modernism to the Western reader is far from complete. Here he comes—fanciful, poignant, endlessly erudite—but most importantly—in fierce resistance to Soviet history with its maniacal desire for the uniformity. Speaking from the margins of the Soviet century, in many exotic tongues (after all, he was one of the most exquisite Classicists of his time), Egunov brings to us yet another completely unexpected, original version of High Modernism—fresh, original, breathing with freedom and loneliness.
— Polina Barskova, Associate Professor of Russian Literature, Hampshire College