Spring 2019

Fact, Fiction, and the Truth

Listed in: English, as ENGL-314  |  Russian, as RUSS-254


Masha Gessen (Section 01)


(Offered as RUSS 254 and ENGL 314) The problem with facts is that they can be unwieldy, unbelievable, and also unknowable. The problem with fiction is that it doesn’t have the veracity of facts. Or does it? It is a commonplace that fiction can be truer than nonfiction. That, in turn, raises the question of what truth is. The Nobel Prize winner Svetlana Alexievich has talked about the “emotional truth” of her books, the factual accuracy of which has been questioned. In this class, we will read Alexievich’s work and discuss this criticism - and the less-than-certain boundary between fiction and nonfiction. But before we get to that, we will be reading, side by side, works of fiction and nonfiction about the great tragedies of twentieth-century Russia: the Gulag; the siege of Leningrad; the war in Chechnya; and more. We will also watch several films. Reading closely, we will ask how the narratives and characters in fiction and nonfiction shape our understanding of “what really happened.” We will be reading both Russian and English-language authors, but all readings will be in English. This is a writing-attentive class in which students will be asked to write essays and fiction.

Spring semester. Visiting Professor Gessen.

If Overenrolled: Priority will be given to fourth-year students, then to first-to-third-year students, then to five-college students


Attention to Writing


2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2019, Spring 2020