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Historical novels by Rudolf Sirge

An attempt to reread Soviet literature



The historical novels by Rudolf Sirge provide an opportunity to examine the question how we could and should read the literary works from the Soviet time that have a certain literary value, but which do not fit into the contemporary ideological framework or the „regime of truth”, in a situation where the complicated codes of reception of those times are hidden from us. The paper deals with two cases: first, a comparison of Rahu! Leiba! Maad! („Peace! Bread! Land!”, 1929), a naturalist novel about the revolutionary times of 1917–1918, and its later version Tulukesed luhal („Lights on the River Plain”, 1961), which meets the demands of the Soviet regime; and second, an analysis of Maa ja rahvas („The Land and the People”, 1956), a novel about the complicated times of 1940–1941 in the countryside, a groundbreaking work in terms of liberating Soviet Estonian prose from Stalinist restrictions. I propose two ways of rereading Soviet literary works. First, we can trace marks of trauma writing and hidden resistance in those texts, thus revealing their intrinsic ambivalence and polyphony. Second, the texts can be used as a means to keep in mind that literature is an important discoursive field of a dissensual reworking of the „distribution of the sensible” (in the sense proposed by Jacques Rancière). Those two „techniques” are intertwined, of course.