Spring 2016

Century of Catastrophe:  Soviet and Contemporary Russia in Literature and Film

Listed in: Russian, as RUSS-213

Formerly listed as: RUSS-23


Catherine A. Ciepiela (Section 01)


Russia was launched on a unique path by the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917: it was intended to become the first Communist society in history.  The Cultural Revolution that followed sought to remake institutions and even persons in the name of realizing a classless society.  This utopian project came up against the actual history of the twentieth century not just in Russia but internationally:  world wars, the collapse of empires, and the victory of “capitalism” over “communism.”  Much of the best Russian literature and film of the twentieth century addresses the tensions of this historical period.  We will trace these tensions in landmark texts, grouping them around particular moments of catastrophic change – the Revolution, the Civil War, the “internationalizing” of non-Russian peoples, collectivization and famine, Stalin’s purges, World War II and the siege of Leningrad, urbanization, and the collapse of the Soviet empire.  We will consider, among other texts, Esther Shub’s “The Fall of the Romanovs,” Isaak Babel’s Red Cavalry, Nadezhda Mandelstam’s Hope Against Hope, the poetry of Anna Akhmatova, Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate, Lydia Ginzburg’s Blockade Diary, Andrei Tarkovsky’s “Stalker,” Alexander Sokurov’s “Russian Ark,” and the installation art of Ilya Kabakov.  All readings and discussion in English.  No familiarity with Russian history and culture is assumed. Three meetings per week.

Spring semester. Professor Ciepiela.

RUSS 213 - L/D

Section 01
M 11:00 AM - 11:50 AM WEBS 215
W 11:00 AM - 11:50 AM WEBS 215
F 11:00 AM - 11:50 AM WEBS 215

This is preliminary information about books for this course. Please contact your instructor or the Academic Coordinator for the department, before attempting to purchase these books.

ISBN Title Publisher Author(s) Comment Book Store Price
Sankya Dzanc Books Prilepin Amherst Books TBD
The Russian Revolution Oxford UP Fitzpatrick Amherst Books TBD
Heart of a Dog Grove Bulgakov Amherst Books TBD
Voices from Chernobyl Piscador Alexievich Amherst Books TBD
The Foundation Pit Northwestern Platonov Amherst Books TBD

These books are available locally at Amherst Books.


2024-25: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2008, Spring 2013, Spring 2016, Spring 2018, Spring 2020