Places: The Naked Year

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Goly god, 1922 (English translation, 1928)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Regional

Time of work: Early twentieth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Russia

*Russia. Naked Year, TheCountry in which the entire novel is set. In numerous vignettes, an almost fragmentary procession of interconnected scenes, the action moves from one (often fictitious) place to another, as if in passing, underscoring the whirlwind nature of the Russian Revolution. The narrative opens in the town of Ordynin and is generally centered there, but the overall stage is much larger than that.

While the fragmented plot does not allow for a unifying picture, it reflects the fragmentary nature of the happenings in various parts of the country. What gradually becomes clear is that Boris Pilnyak is not attempting to describe the revolution so much as voice his own views about it. He welcomes the revolution but in his own, unorthodox way. He was one of those considered “fellow travelers”–those who sympathized with the revolution without supporting it wholeheartedly or who had rather personal and often misguided understandings of it. Pilnyak saw the revolution as a clash between East and West in Russia, with Bolshevism, by getting rid of autocratic rule, bringing Russia back to its roots. Thus, his novel pits the spiritual culture of Russia against the mechanical culture of the West. The Old Russia of religious fervor and spiritualism, closeness to Mother Nature, and almost pagan adherence to the peasant way of life was almost obliterated by the West-leaning leaders, beginning with Peter the Great. Pilnyak failed to understand, or chose to ignore, the fact that the ideology of communism adopted by the revolutionaries was itself a product of the West.

The novel’s dynamic, fleeting, and impressionistic picture of the revolution often borders on chaos, not only in the absence of a defined plot, but also in its fragmented syntax, frequent repetitions, hectic pace, and telegraphic narrative with truncated sentences. However, Pilnyak uses this narrative technique to underline the inherently chaotic nature of the events themselves. What delights him is the revolution’s primitive, elemental, vigorous, and passionate side, as reflected in the actions of most of his characters. He approaches the revolution as a romantic, emotional experience, presenting it as a powerful elemental force of nature–like a blizzard or a flood. This romantic, almost mystical, notion of the revolution was popular among some Russian writers at the time, and Pilnyak is the best example. The Naked Year does not overlook the disease, famine, dislocation, and other calamities brought by the revolution, and its mood is sometimes pessimistic; however, in Pilnyak’s view, that also is a part of the experience.

Ordynin

Ordynin (ohr-DEW-nihn). Fictitious Russian town, somewhere between Moscow and Asia, in which the aristocratic Ordynin family lives. Ordynin serves Pilnyak as a springboard for advancing further his theses about the Russian society and the revolution. Various members of the Ordynin family mirror the degeneration of the aristocracy. They are either impotent, aimless, deranged, or syphilitic. The only exceptions are a son. who is a religious fanatic seeing Russia’s salvation in a return to its past, and a daughter who embraces Bolshevism. These two represent the two warring sides in the revolution. Faithful to his understanding of it, Pilnyak strangely sees both of these sides winning. This incongruence reflects Pilnyak’s unique interpretation of the revolution or, perhaps, his desire to see Russia return to its spiritual, Christian, almost pagan past.

“China Town.”

“China Town.” Term that Pilnyak uses several times in the novel as representative of the East. He stresses the point that Russia belongs to the East, straddling the border line between Europe and Asia. There are no further explanations of this reference.

BibliographyBrown, Edward J. “Boris Pilnyak: Biology and History.” In Russian Literature Since the Revolution. New York: Collier Books, 1963. Considers The Naked Year a virtuoso performance both in its symphonic structure of themes and ideas and in being a presentation of the primitive and elemental forces of the Revolution. Good survey of Pilnyak’s works.Maguire, Robert. “The Pioneers: Pil’nyak and Ivanov.” In Red Virgin Soil: Soviet Literature in the 1920’s. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1968. A useful discussion of Pilnyak’s role in Russian literature of the 1920’s, especially of his iconoclastic approach to literature. Asserts that Pilnyak lacks greatness but was influential in shaping the Russian literature of his time.Reck, Vera T. Boris Pil’niak: A Soviet Writer in Conflict with the State. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1975. Extensive account of Pilnyak’s celebrated troubles with the authorities, to whom Stalin gave the tone by declaring that Pilnyak expressed his anarchism already in The Naked Year.Slonim, Marc. “Boris Pilnyak: The Untimely Symbolist.” In Soviet Russian Literature: Writers and Problems 1917-1977. 2d rev. ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1977. Substantive historical survey of Pilnyak’s works and his place in the early Russian literature of the Soviet period.Struve, Gleb. Russian Literature Under Lenin and Stalin, 1917-1953. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1971. Contains a brief but excellent account of Pilnyak’s writings, including The Naked Year, and of his conflicts with the state that eventually led to his death.
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