In her LRB review of Sergei Dovlatov’s Pushkin Hills and The Zone, Sophie Pinkham referes to another of Dovlatov’s novels, The Invisible Book. It looks like it contains interesting comments on Soviet publishing, but, as I cannot find an affordable copy of this book (AbeBooks has one listed at £313.42!), here is Pinkham’s reference.
“The Zone is a contribution to the long tradition of Russian and Soviet prison memoirs, from Dostoyevsky to Varlam Shalamov. But Dovlatov is an odd man out. The book is framed by letters to Dovlatov’s real-life publisher at a Russian émigré press about its repeated rejection on the grounds that ‘the prison-camp theme is exhausted,’ and that ‘after Solzhenitsyn, the subject ought to be closed.’ (In a rejection letter included in The Invisible Book, a Soviet editor tells the narrator: ‘We don’t want anything tragic or gloomy. We want to sing and laugh like children!’) Dovlatov says that even if he isn’t Solzhenitsyn, he still has the right to exist; that his book is about criminal camps, not political ones; and that unlike Solzhenitsyn, he believes that the problem isn’t that the camps are hell, but that hell is inside us. The difference between previous camps and Dovlatov’s is the difference between the USSR under Stalin and the USSR under Brezhnev. Terror gave way to bored misery; moral absolutism to irony. Things stopped looking so black and white.”
Perhaps someone will publish a new edition of this interesting sounding book.
Sergei Dovlatov, The Invisible Book, 1977