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Mastering Chaos

The Metafictional Worlds of Evgeny Popov

Jeremy Morris

«This is an interesting and important book, the first attempt to encapsulate the highly idiosyncratic œuvre and career of Evgeny Popov, a major and controversial figure in the late Soviet and post-Soviet literary landscape.» (Michael Pushkin, University of Birmingham)
«Morris is excellent in his treatment of the writer’s attitude towards the past and history; and he differentiates between Popov’s more nuanced and ambiguous view of the Soviet experiment and those writers, likewise liberals, who have adopted a ‘confessional’ stance.» (Robert Porter, University of Bristol)
«A broad contextualization of the works of this important Russian author.» (Christine Engel, University of Innsbruck)
This is the first book devoted to the writings of Evgeny Popov (born 1946), a major and controversial figure in the late Soviet and post-Soviet literary landscape. The author uses a wide range of primary and secondary sources, many of them in Russian, alongside detailed analysis of the novels and stories themselves. The introduction charts the course of Popov’s personal and professional biography, including major turning points such as the Metropole affair of 1979. A chapter on critical contexts provides a clear account of the history of Popov’s reception. Other chapters focus on the first collection of short stories and the complexities of narrative voice, the concept of the ‘non-elucidatory principle’ at the heart of Popov’s poetics, and the short story cycles in Metropole and Catalogue, from the late 1970s and early 1980s. Finally the author addresses the key phenomenon of Popov’s self-fictionalization in both his shorter and longer works up to the present day.


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Part I Contexts


Introduction A ‘Minimal Ambition’1 Reality is transformed into a literary text only on the basis of personal experience, and it does not matter how this experience has been achieved – in life itself, through culture, or by learning from other writers.2 A salient characteristic of Popov’s work is the dif ficulty for the reader in locating a boundary between autobiography and fiction. Throughout his literary career he has borrowed freely from events in his own life and those of friends, acquaintances and strangers, changing names, or not. He freely embellishes the biographical, exaggerates, or not, blatantly fictionalising relatively humdrum encounters from reality into the tallest of tall stories. This distinguishing feature of the writing – delightful, revealing, provoca- tive and frustrating – is perhaps the hallmark of his literary persona and work. This characteristic extends to work published not as fiction, but as journalism. In his many examples of newspaper публицистикa [jour- nalistic writing], a genre in Russia rather more wide-ranging than op-ed or discussion piece, fictional elements are incorporated into articles on the politics and society of Russia post-1991. Sally Laird, introducing her substantial interview with Popov on his life and work conducted in 1991, comments that at the root of his writing is the sense of reality as unstable 1 Evgeny Popov quoted in Sally Laird, ‘Yevgeny Popov’, Voices of Russian Literature: Interviews with Ten Contemporary Writers (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 124. 2 Yevgeny Popov, ‘The Silhouette of Truth’, World Literature Today 67(1) (1993), 39. 4 Introduction and unconvincing.3...

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