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Post-war literature

Akhmatova, partly as a reward for her cooperation in the war effort, was allowed to publish again after the war and remained the great name in St Petersburg letters. More cautious this time after the misery of her son’s constant arrest and imprisonment during the 1930s, Akhmatova worked mainly in secret on her masterpieces Requiem and Poem Without a Hero.

After Stalin’s death and the Khrushchev thaw slowly began to set in, a group of young poets in the city started to meet at Akhmatova’s apartment regularly. Soon known as ‘Akhmatova’s Orphans’, the star
of the group was the fiercely talented Joseph Brodsky.

Joseph Brodsky

Joseph Brodsky


Brodsky was a true original. Despite growing up in the Soviet Union he seemed to have no fear of the consequences that writing your mind in the USSR might bring. He was head-ing for disaster from a very young age. In 1964, he was tried for ‘social parasitism’ and exiled to the north of Russia for five years, although after concerted international protests led by Jean-Paul Sartre, his sentence was shortened to time served and he returned to Leningrad in 1965, only to continue being a thorn in the side of the authorities immediately.

During Brodksy’s absence, Khrushchev had been overthrown and the conservative Brezhnev took over the reins of power, reversing most of his predecessor’s liberal decisions, It was Brezhnev who came up with another plan to silence Soviet writers and sending the troublemakers into foreign exile began soon after. Brodsky was put on a plane to Germany in 1972 and Alexander Solzhenitsyn was deported to the United States in 1974, having been awarded the Nobel Prize for his Gulag Archipelago. Both writers became world famous overnight, their freedom to speak the truth about life in the Soviet Union being used as the ultimate anti-Soviet propaganda.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Alexander Solzhenitsyn


The literature of St Petersburg thereafter was less eventful, the fall of communism leading to a huge round of printing as the banned works of the Soviet period, both foreign and Russian, flooded the market. While Russia has produced several important writers since the end of communism including Viktor Pelevin, Boris Akunin, Ludmilla Petrushevskaya and Vladimir Sorokin, St Petersburg itself is still waiting to find its
21st-century voice.

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