Sash-Bash versus the Refrigerator People: The Redemptive Power of Art in Nina Sadur’s Čudesnye znaki spasen’ja

Anthony Qualin, Texas Tech University

There can be little doubt that the character Saša in Nina Sadur’s “novel” Čudesnye znaki spasen’ja is based on the rock musician Aleksandr Bašlačev. Sadur’s literary Saša and the singer-songwriter have too much in common – from their physical description, the bells they wear around their necks, and the method of their suicide – to attribute to mere coincidence. In this paper I shall argue that Sadur offers a complex intertextual treatment of Bašlačev’s works and his legend in order to portray the redemptive power of art.

I shall begin with a brief biography of Bašlačev, underscoring the traits he has in common with Sadur’s Saša. I shall discuss Bašlačev’s “legend” as it took shape both during his lifetime and after his death, exploring the artist's own belief in the mystic power of the poetic word and his aspiration to be worthy of the title “poet.” I shall then examine the almost messianic significance that many members of the rock counterculture conferred upon Bašlačev after his suicide in 1988. In discussing Sadur’s treatment of Bašlačev’s verse, I shall argue that the narrator’s struggles with Saša’s ghost represent an emotional response to Bašlačev’s verse. I shall then discuss the narrator's dialogue with Saša’s photograph as an exploration of Bašlačev’s legacy and the role attributed to him by his admirers. I shall conclude that Sadur rejects the idea that Bašlačev’s art can bring about social change but that she finds that his work can bring redemption on an individual basis.

There seems to be rather little overlap between Sadur’s readership and Bašlačev’s listeners. I hope that this study of Sadur’s treatment of Bašlačev’s image in Čudesnye znaki spasen’ja will also acquaint her readers with Saša’s enormously talented prototype while making those who appreciate Bašlačev’s gifts aware of Sadur’s exploration of his work and his legend. I believe that my analysis of Sadur’s works will offer valuable insight into her artistic vision and give impetus to further studies of her treatment of Bašlačev’s life and work.