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Iampol’skii, Boris Samoilovich

(1912–1972), Russian-language writer. Boris Iampol’skii was born and raised on the Jewish outskirts of the provincial Ukrainian town of Belaia Tserkov’, where his father worked at a mill and his mother owned a small dry goods store. Although Iampol’skii left home in 1927, the impressions of his Jewish childhood informed his work for the rest of his life.

In the late 1920s and early 1930s, Iampol’skii wrote for newspapers in Baku and Novokuznetsk. In March 1941, his story “Iarmarka” (The Fair) appeared in the journal Krasnaia nov’ (Red Virgin Soil). In this piece, the protagonist tries unsuccessfully to find a place for himself beyond the shtetl. The movement of young men from that environment into the revolution or into early Communist society was a frequent topic in Russian Jewish literature (represented, for example, in Doyvber Levin’s “Ulitsa sapozhnikov” [Shoemaker Street; 1932], Mikhail Shtitel’man’s “Povest’ o detstve” [Childhood Story; 1938], and Semen Gekht’s “Pouchitel’naia istoriia” [An Instructive Story; 1939]). The hero of “Iarmarka,” by contrast, returns to the shtetl because he considers it to be the only national Jewish home.

As a young writer, Iampol’skii held as his ideal the strong, capable, confident Jewish worker, who cannot be separated from his Jewish national home. As David Roskies (Against the Apocalypse; 1984) has pointed out, idealization of the shtetl was a standard Jewish response to catastrophe. Iampol’skii’s reaction brings him close to Y. L. Peretz, Sholem Aleichem, and Sholem Asch, and reveals his ties to Jewish culture. Biblical motifs and themes, as well as intonations from Yiddish folklore, combine in Iampol’skii’s fiction with Russian literary traditions from the epic Slovo o polku Igoreve (Lay of the Host of Igor) through Gogol. Iampol’skii’s response to the assimilationist yearnings of many Soviet Jews appears in Iamarka as a satiric portrait of the characters Madame Kanareika and her husband, who regard their Jewishness as shameful.

During World War II, Iampol’skii worked as a military correspondent for the newspapers Krasnaia zvezda (Red Star) and Izvestiia. His impressions took artistic form in the story “Doroga ispytanii” (Road of Trials; 1955), while the Holocaust and the attitude of local occupied populations to Jews are important in the stories “Chudo” (The Miracle), “Desiat’ liliputov na odnoi krovati” (Ten Lilliputians in One Bed), “Bliznetsy” (Twins), and “Kievskii rasskaz” (A Kiev Story), all published after Iampol’skii’s death and after the fall of the Soviet Union.

When the death of Stalin raised hopes for liberalization, Iampol’skii returned to the theme of the shtetl, a forbidden topic during the antisemitic campaign of the late 1940s and early 1950s. In his story “Mal’chik s Golubinoi ulitsy” (The Boy from Dove Street; 1959), pogrom scenes during the civil war of 1918–1920, a Seder, Hanukkah, and a heder are presented through the boyish perceptions of the hero. Compelled to uphold ideological requirements (the revolution as the source of ethnic equality, the Bolsheviks as bringers of justice, and so on), Iampol’skii brings them into the story as romantically exaggerated notions of a naive boy. Symbolically, he shows the illusory nature of the boy’s hopes for the revolution: supporters and passionate revolutionaries all disappear in the whirlwind of the civil war. The boy’s revolutionary fervor is opposed by the shtetl wise men, who include an old rebbe, the boy’s grandfather with a prayer book, and the smithy David, a character known to readers from the earlier “Iarmarka.”

In the 1960s, with censorship increasing, Iampol’skii wrote the somewhat autobiographical stories “Tri vesny” (Three Springs; 1962), “Molodoi chelovek” (A Young Man; 1963), and “Karusel” (Carousel; 1969). The Jewish content of these pieces is limited. He also wrote several cycles of short stories, published in his collections Khrabryi krolik i drugie rasskazy o zveriakh i ptisakh (The Brave Rabbit and Other Stories about Beasts and Birds; 1961), Volshebnyi fonar’. Povest’, rasskazy, miniatury (The Magic Lantern: Novella, Stories, Miniatures; 1967) and “Neveroiatnye istorii, smeshnye i grustnye” (Unbelievable Stories, Funny and Sad; 1966).

Under conditions of harsh censorship, Iampol’skii wrote and concealed works that were merciless in their attitude toward the Soviet system. The best of these, all of which appeared in the late 1980s and early 1990s after the writer’s death, include the novel Arbat, rezhimnaia ulitsa (Arbat, Restricted Street; 1988), an examination of the fear engendered by postwar terror; memoirs of the writers Iurii Olesha and Vasilii Grossman (1989); and the unfinished story “Vasha iavka obiazatel’na” (Your Presence Is Obligatory; 1990). A special place in Iampol’skii’s uncensored works is the story “Tabor” (The Gypsy Camp; written in 1971 and published in Israel in 1978). The contrast of the lost, idealized shtetl to the soulless Soviet city that arose in its place reflects Iampol’skii’s unremitting pain, marking him as the only Soviet writer of the 1940s through the 1970s to write about the shetl and mourn its loss.

Suggested Reading

Rita Genzeleva, “The National Consciousness of a Russian Jewish Writer: Boris Iampolskii,” Jews in Eastern Europe 26 (1995): 34–53; Rita Genzeleva, Puti evreiskogo samosoznaniia (Moscow and Jerusalem, 1999); Vladimir Prikhod’ko, “Sogliadatai chelovecheskii,” in Iarmarka, by Boris Iampol’skii (Moscow; 1997).



Translated from Russian by Alice Nakhimovsky