The Solicitous Narrator and the Quest for Truth in Lev Razgon's Nepridumannoe

David Galloway, Hobart and William Smith Colleges

Before 1986, nearly all Russian narratives of prison and GULAG had been published only in the West. As a result of glasnost', many works which had been proscribed were at last made available to Soviet readers. This provoked an initial storm of interest, but soon the epic of the camps lost its relevancy, possibly due to a perceived overabundance of new (or newly-appearing) books on the topic. This lack of interest motivates new strategies in writing a camp memoir. Lev Razgon's Nepridumannoe, which appeared starting in 1988, is a literary creation whose philosophical underpinnings were crafted in response to material in the existing tradition as well as public sentiment. The oversaturation of and apathy towards the GULAG theme led to an instinctive defensiveness on the part of Razgon as he attempted to justify the existence of additional literature on the "exhausted" topic. Razgon accepts the traditional memoir as a sound basis and attempts to build a bridge to that tradition by increasing his authorial involvement.

Nepridumannoe is a collection of short narrative pieces which are presented as true accounts and are mediated by Razgon as the narrator. His persona, which I term the solicitous narrator, attempts to forestall reader objection and doubt to his text by engaging in a dialogue through digressions, comments, explanations, and affirmations. All these techniques are designed to prove the text accurate, relevant, and a valuable contribution to the tradition of Russian prison writing.

Nepridumannoe is structured to preemptively confront the objections of an exhausted audience. These objections, from Razgon's point of view, tend to be areas where he anticipates doubt or disbelief on the part of the reader, or where the narrator's handling of related stories may confuse the reader due to digressions and tangential discourse. As a result, the stories depart from the traditional model of the prison memoir in four ways: in their polemic with the tradition, the use of negative statements to call attention to their unique qualities, a high degree of narrator involvement, and a preoccupation with the theme and process of memory. The solicitous narrator guides the reading process, inserting caveats, veracity claims, explanations, and apologies where appropriate. The final goal of these strategies is serve Razgon's need for truth--to show his narrative as factual and uncontestable.

As Razgon's means to create his own prison memoir, the solicitous narrator functions as a development in narrative presence different from previous examples in the tradition. Razgon's narrative stance is partly a response to the over saturation of the tradition, and partly a desire to ensure that his jaded readership finds the differences in his own writing that make Nepridumannoe valuable as a prison text. But even the latter is not left to chance: Razgon deliberately points out differences between his own views and those of other authors such as Gorbatov and Solzhenicyn for the reader, not entirely trusting that they will become apparent in the course of the book.