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  • Yuri Trifonov's The Moscow Cycle: A Critical Study
  • Irina H. Corten
Colin Partridge. Yuri Trifonov's The Moscow Cycle: A Critical Study. Lewiston: Meilen, 1990. 208pp. $49.95.

Colin Partridge's book is the first full-length English-language study of Iurii Trifonov, an important Soviet writer of the post-Stalin era. It provides biographical information on Trifonov, an overview of his oeuvre, and a more detailed analysis of six works that comprise his so-called Moscow Cycle. The Cycle describes typical members of the Moscow intelligentsia from the 1930s to the 1970s, and Partridge discusses their lives and relationships in the context of Soviet history and culture.

For the general audience, Partridge's book is useful because of its readability and factual material. It familiarizes readers with the content of Trifonov's works and his method of character portrayal. Partridge does a good job of analyzing the characters' mentalities and behavior patterns in the light of Trifonov's personal ideology and ethics, and of relating them to broader questions of Soviet politics and culture.

For scholars, however, Partridge's book leaves much to be desired. Its research mechanism is inadequate. Notes are scanty, and almost no Russian-language sources are mentioned in the bibliography. This is surprising, for there is a goodly number of critical articles about Trifonov by Soviet authors. The Index is also incomplete.

Partridge's transliteration and spelling of Russian terms and names is sloppy and inaccurate. For example, the name of one character, Dmitriev, is given as Dmietriev. Miagkoserdechie is misspelled as miakhoserdechnia; chelovechnost' as "chelovechestnost ." His interpretations of Russian terms are not always precise. For example, chelovechnost' is explained as "human fellow feeling"—an awkward coinage and not a good substitute for "humaneness." At times his usage of technical terms is peculiar. Thus, he employs the word "Sovietism" rather vaguely to mean something like "Soviet spirit," whereas literary scholars normally use it to denote a term pointing to some characteristic phenomenon of Soviet reality, for example, kolkhoz (collective farm). Although Partridge's language is usually competent, it contains some odd expressions. In Chapter Two, for example, he speaks of the USSR as being opposed by "the alternative global federation"—an absurd phrase and notion. [End Page 801]

Throughout the book Partridge refers to Trifonov's connections with certain Russian classics, such as Lermontov, Gogol, and Chekhov, but he does not discuss these connections systematically and in depth. Strangely enough, he does not investigate the thematic link between Trifonov and Tolstoy. One of his major points, a valid one, is that Trifonov's characters struggle to overcome "the sickness of egoism." What better antecedent do they have in that endeavor than Tolstoy's Levin?

In the Preface Partridge calls Trifonov a "prose-poet" and says that "my interpretations and arguments are dedicated to revealing the poet beneath the prose writer." This statement leads one to expect a thorough analysis of Trifonov's lexicon, sentence structure, imagery, and the like, but only sporadic comments are offered on this subject. In short, a scholarly book examining Trifonov's craft as a writer and evaluating his role in Russian literature is yet to be written.

Irina H. Corten
University of Minnesota


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