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LITERATURE/ The memory of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy

Memory: The Seed of the Future. Russian literature has emphasized the value of memory with particular clarity and vision. But memory of what? Pigi Colognesi comments.

Aleksandr Solženicyn     (photo Ansa) Aleksandr Solženicyn (photo Ansa)

Russia was the guest of honor at the twenty-fourth International Book Fair in Turin, which was  titled "Memory. The seed of the future." Certainly Russian literature has emphasized the value of memory with particular clarity and vision. It is not for nothing that, when Russia was called the Soviet Union, poets and writers came up with an extraordinarily flexible and innovative way to preserve memory: the samizdat, that is, free literature produced outside official publishing houses, but with just a few handwritten or typed copies shared among friends.

And it was a great Russian author, Solzhenitsyn, who tackled questions related to the fundamental role of memory for the establishment of a free people and denounced the mirror role of the power which destroys memory in order to take possession of the soul of the people. 

But memory of what? In the brief space granted to an editorial, I would say synthetically:  the memory of the inscrutable depth of the human "I". We read this in the vertiginous dialogues of Dostoevsky's characters and in the enormous social epics and people of Tolstoy; we see it pulse everywhere in the fantastic novels of Bulgakov and in the story of Doctor Zhivago by Pasternak. And this dignified and irreducible depth we admire is erected, tortured but not defeated, in the works of those who dared to denounce the totalitarian monster:  The Gulag Archipelago of Solzhenitsyn, Life and Fate by Grossman, and the Kolyma Tales by Salamov.

This great Russian literature is permeated with the clear awareness that the greatness of the "I" does not automatically go without saying; it is threatened by a tyrannical power. We find this idea already in Pushkin’s poem The Bronze Horseman. It tells of the poor officer Yevgeny from St. Petersburg who is just waiting to realize his little dream: to marry the girl he loves, have children and grow old in peace. But one day the Neva River, which Peter the Great had contained within strong banks to build his capital, has a catastrophic flood, the house of Eugene's bride is inundated, she dies and he succumbs to the life of a vagabond.