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Gorenshtein, Fridrikh Naumovich

(1932–2002), prose writer, playwright, and screenwriter. Fridrikh Gorenshtein was born in Kiev; his father, a professor, was repressed in 1935. A graduate of the Dnepropetrovsk Mining Institute (1955), Gorenshtein also completed a course in screenwriting (1963). Between 1963 and 1980, he wrote 15 screenplays, including Solaris (dir. Andrei Tarkovskii; 1972) and Raba liubvi (Slave of Love; dir. Nikita Mikhalkov; 1976). In the Soviet Union, Gorenshtein was permitted to publish just one piece, the story “Dom s bashenkoi” (House with a Turret; 1964); however, his novella, Stupeni (Steps), was included in a celebrated “unofficial” collection, Metropol’ (1979). In 1980 he emigrated to Germany, where he remained until his death in 2002.


Gorenshtein worked with equal enthusiasm on fiction, drama, and essays (the latter included “Drezdenskie strasti” [Dresden Passions; 1993]; “Po kom zvonit kolokol. Traktat-pamphlet o zhizni i smerti Bozh’ego mira i blizhnevostochnogo mira” [For Whom the Bell Tolls: A Pamphlet-Treatise on the Life and Death of God’s World and Middle East Peace; 2002]). Historical themes are central to his play Detoubiitsa (The Child Murderer; 1985), as well as to the film Pod znakom tibetskoi svastilki: Zapiski belokazach’ego ofitsera (Under the Sign of the Tibetan Swastika: Notes of a White Cossack Officer; 1997) and the dramatic epic Na krestcakh: Kronika vremen Ivana Groznogo (At the Crossroads: A Chronicle of Ivan the Terrible; 2002). His biographical works include the screenplays Letit sebe aeroplan: Svobodnaia fantaziia po motivam zhizni I tvorchestva Marka Shagala (An Airplane is Flying: A Free Fantasy on the Life and Work of Mark Chagall; 1996) and Scriabin (1998), about the Russian composer Alexander Scriabin. Gorenshtein’s political novel Mesto (The Place; 1972) recreates the pseudo-liberal atmosphere of the Soviet Union in the 1960s. Its fictional hero, whose parents were victims of the Terror, despairs of the possibility of justice and becomes a member of a radical group planning to assassinate an important party figure.


Gorenshtein’s works prove the existence of Russian-language Jewish literature in the Soviet Union. In an emotional attack on Russian writers, particularly Dostoevsky, he sought a metaphysical basis for the unceasing Jewish dialogue with God. Jewish themes are evident in the play Spory o Dostoevskom (Disputes on Dostoevsky; 1973), a work in which Gorenshtein seeks out the spiritual and religious roots of Russian antisemitism. Another dramatic work, Berdichev (1995; characterized by Gorenshtein as “a Drama in 92 Squabbles”) is an eccentric saga about a provincial Jewish family from 1945 until the mid-1970s, and is written in Russian-Jewish slang. Psalom: Roman-rzamyshlenie o chetyrekh kazniakh Gospodnikh (Psalm: A Novel Meditation on the Four Passions of the Lord; 1986) is a fable about the coming of the Antichrist, who resurrects Jews killed by the Nazis. Occupying a prominent place in Gorenshtein’s canon, this work employs biblical themes in a polemic with Christian theology. One of its major topics is Jewish defenselessness, understood as the preeminent Jewish sin.

Suggested Reading

Fridrikh Gorenshtein, Tri p’esy (New York, 1988); Fridrikh Gorenshtein, Izbrannoe, 3 vols. (Moscow, 1991–1993); M. Grinberg, “Hesped,” Slovo 34 (2002); M. Polianskaia, “Ia pisatel’ nezakonnyi . . . : Zapiski i razmyshleniia o sud’be i tvorchestve Fridrikha Gorenshteina,” Slovo 36 (2004); I. Polianski, “The Place of Fridrikh Gorenshtein,” Slovo 34 (2002).

Author

Translation

Translated from Russian by Alice Nakhimovsky