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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2645

Russian short novelist Valentin Rasputin is no more!

By Dr. Abdul Ruff

Known for his excellent prose narration and character portrayal, especially on Russian village life and conflict, one of the best known and highly talented Russian writers in modern times Valentin Rasputin has passed away in Moscow on March 14 at the age of 77.

A part of treasure of world literature, Rasputin’s writing is read with enthusiasm worldwide. Valentin Rasputin had been hospitalized several days prior in a serious condition, state news agency Interfax reported, adding that after slipping into a coma, he never woke up. Details of his illness remain unclear.

President Vladimir Putin expressed his condolences to relatives and friends of Valentin Rasputin, a revered Russian writer, who passed away. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev wrote on his Facebook page Sunday that Russian literature would have been very different without his striking heroes, who remained human under any circumstances". "Through his books, many generations learned how to live, how to appreciate the beauty of this world, how to love," Medvedev wrote.

Rasputin was among the most prominent figures associated with Village Prose, a literary movement that emerged in the post-Stalin era of the 1960s and 1970s. Works of Village Prose often focused on rural life in the Soviet Union.

Rasputin is closely associated with a movement in post-war Soviet literature known as "village prose," or sometimes "rural prose" Beginning in the time of the Khrushchev Thaw village prose was praised for its stylistic and thematic departures from socialist realism. Village prose works usually focused on the hardships of the Soviet peasantry, espoused an idealized picture of traditional village life, and implicitly or explicitly criticized official modernization projects. Rasputin's 1979 novel Farewell to Matyora, which depicts a fictional Siberian village which is to be evacuated and cleared so that a hydroelectric dam can be constructed further down the Angara River, was considered the epitome of this genre. The opening paragraph below is a good example of Rasputin's writing style (exceptional even for the village prose writers), and the novel's theme of natural cycles disrupted by modernization:

Once more spring had come, one more in the never-ending cycle, but for Matyora this spring would be the last, the last for both the island and the village that bore the same name. Once more, rumbling passionately, the ice broke, piling up mounds on the banks, and the liberated Angara River opened up, stretching out into a mighty, sparkling flow. Once more the water gushed boisterously at the island’s upper tip, before cascading down both channels of the riverbed;… It had all happened many times before. (From Rasputin's novel Farewell to Matyora, translated by Antonina Bouis, 1979).

Rasputin's nonfiction works contain similar themes, often in support of relevant political causes. He directed particularly trenchant criticism at large-scale dam building, like the project that flooded his own hometown, and water management projects, like the diversion of the Siberian rivers to Central Asia. He argued that these projects were destructive not simply in an ecological sense, but in a moral sense as well.

Some critics accused Rasputin of idealizing village life and slipping into anti-modern polemics.

Born in Siberia, Rasputin wrote about Russia's most remote, neglected villages, and the lifestyles of their inhabitants. Ust-Uda, the Irkutsk region village in Asian part of Russian federation where Rasputin was born on March 15, 1937, was evacuated and flooded due to the construction of the Bratsk hydropower plant. Rasputin graduated from Irkutsk University in 1959, and started working for local Komsomol newspapers in Irkutsk and Krasnoyarsk. He published his first short story in 1961.

An important point in Rasputin's early literary career was a young writers' seminar in September 1965 in Chita led by Vladimir Chivilikhin who encouraged the young writer's literary aspirations and recommended him for membership in the prestigious Union of Soviet Writers. Since then Rasputin has considered Chivilikhin his "literary godfather"

In 1967, after the publication of his Money for Maria, Rasputin was indeed admitted to the Union of Soviet Writers. Over the next three decades, he published a number of novels, many became both widely popular among the Russian reading public and critically acclaimed.

The theme of a village being sacrificed for the building of a hydroelectric dam formed the backbone of his most famous novel, "Farewell to Matyora." His other most famous books include “The French Lessons," "The Last Deadline", "Live and Remember", etc.

Rasputin opposed perestroika, a package of radical state reforms initiated by the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev. In the post-Soviet period, Rasputin remained a supporter of the Communist Party, and often defended the policies of Soviet leader Josef Stalin.

Rasputin vocally advocated for the criminal prosecution of protest group Pussy Riot after they stormed Russia's main Orthodox cathedral and belted out an anti-Putin protest anthem in February 2012.

Most recently, he voiced support for Russia's annexation of Crimea in March of last year, and spoke out against the pro-Western government in Kiev.

Valentin Rasputin has written sparingly outside the short fiction genre. To be sure, some of his stories belong to what is called in Russian literature povest’, and there is a legitimate question whether they are long stories or short novels. They are considered abroad to be both. Because of Rasputin’s strong allegiance to short fiction, they are treated also as short stories.

Valentin Rasputin belongs to the generation of Soviet writers that appeared in the mid-1960, after Soviet literature had awakened from the nightmare of Socialist Realism. Along with Vasilit Belov, Fyodor Abramov, and others, Rasputin has written almost exclusively about village life. He has raised the village prose to a higher artistic level. He is also one of few to write about Siberia. Above all, his ability to present seemingly mundane events in a high artistic fashion and to create fine characters has made him a prominent writer in contemporary Russian literature.

Rasputin's literary work is closely connected to his activism on social and environmental issues. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s Rasputin, called by some the leading figure of the "Siberian environmental lobby", took an active part in the campaign for protection of Lake Baikal and against the diversion of Siberian fresh water to Central Asian republics. In the 1990s he participated in the nationalist opposition movement. Having spent most of his adult life in Irkutsk, Rasputin remains one of the leading intellectual figures of this Siberian city.

Rasputin's works depict rootless urban characters and the fight for survival of centuries-old traditional rural ways of life. Rasputin's work addresses complex questions of ethics and spiritual revival.

Rasputin's depictions of eastern Siberia's most desolate corners were not always embraced by the ruling authorities. But he was not openly anti-Soviet, and was in fact a passionate proponent of social conservatism and traditional values.

Though a memorial service will be held for Rasputin in Moscow, he will be buried in his native Irkutsk. The memorial service will be delivered by Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Rasputin would have turned 78 on March 15. In recent years, he survived two serious losses: his daughter died in a car accident in 2006; his wife died in 2012.

Belonging to Asian continent, Valentin Rasputin, the finest singer of rural life with melancholy himself is no more now! However, he inspires millions of aspiring writers globally.

- Asian Tribune -

Rasputin being awarded theOrder of Merit for the Fatherland by President Vladimir Putin, 2002.
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