A Post-Soviet Positive Hero? An Analysis of Saša Pankratov in Anatolij Rybakov’s Deti Arbata Novels

Lisa Taylor, University of Georgia

This paper will present a formal analysis of Saša Pankratov, the protagonist of Anatolij Rybakov’s Deti Arbata series of novels (Deti Arbata, Tridcat′ pjatyj i drugie gody, Strax, and Prax i pepel′). Within a theoretical framework derived primarily from the work of Vladimir Propp (Russkij geroičeskij èpos), Lidija Ginzburg (O literaturnom geroe), and Katerina Clark (The Soviet Novel), it will trace Saša Pankratov’s literary lineage back to and beyond the positive hero of Socialist Realism, who is in turn descended from the bogatyri and ascetic heroes of Russian fable and legend, as the analysis will explain.

However, while a formal critical analysis is certainly necessary, Rybakov himself acknowledged that he incorporated his own experiences into the figure of Saša Pankratov. Providing a formal analysis to the exclusion of these highly personal elements might not only present an unbalanced study, but would also be an injustice to Rybakov’s work. Therefore, this paper will also attempt to identify autobiographical elements present in the character of Saša Pankratov. Finally, it will synthesize the results of both analyses in an effort to provide a more balanced, holistic study. The reasons why such a study will be valuable are outlined below.

Scholars acknowledge that there are two main plot lines within the Deti Arbata novels. One is concerned with the thoughts and actions of Iosif Vissarionovič Stalin; the other concentrates on the fate of a group of young adults from the Old Arbat region of Moscow, including Saša Pankratov, an idealistic college student and Komsomol leader who is the novel’s protagonist. However, the extant body of writing about these novels is almost exclusively concerned with Stalin as he is depicted in the novels. In contrast, comparatively little writing and analysis has been dedicated to the group of young adults.

Although some scholars and critics suggest the development of many characters is incomplete, it may be shortsighted to apply this judgment to all of them, especially to Saša Pankratov. Yet beyond scholarly recognition that he embodies certain elements of Rybakov’s own youth, little analysis of this complex central figure has been done. Indeed, a careful reading of the novel indicates that many of the brief comments that have been made about him are inaccurate. Saša has variously been described as “tall,” “a prig,” and “an honest Communist,” all of which can empirically be proven incorrect. This paper aims to begin to correct these mistaken interpretations and to offer a more detailed analysis of Saša Pankratov, a figure as central to the Deti Arbata series as that of Stalin himself.