Introduction by Otto Boele
Afterword by Nicholas Luker
"It evoked almost unprecedented discussions, like those at the time of Turgenev's Fathers and Sons. Some praised the novel far more than it deserved, others complained bitterly that it was a defamation of youth. I may, however, without exaggeration assert that no one in Russia took the trouble to fathom the ideas of the novel. The eulogies and condemnations are equally one-sided."
Thus did Mikhail Artsybashev (1878-1927), whose novels and short stories are suffused with themes of sex, suicide, and murder, describe the reaction to publication in 1907 of Sanin, his second novel. The work provoked heated debates among the Russian reading public, and the journal in which it was published serially was soon closed down by the authorities.
The hero of Artsybashev's novel exhibits a set of new values to be contrasted with the morality of the older Russian intelligentsia. Sanin is an attractive, clever, powerful, life-loving man who is, at the same time, an amoral and carnal animal, bored both by politics and by religion. During the novel he lusts after his own sister, but defends her when she is betrayed by an arrogant officer; he deflowers an innocent-but-willing virgin; and encourages a Jewish friend to end his self-doubts by committing suicide. Sanin's extreme individualism greatly appealed to young people in Russia during the twilight years of the Romanov regime. "Saninism" was marked by sensualism, self-gratification, and self-destruction-and gained in credibility in an atmosphere of moral and spiritual despondency.
Artybashev drew upon a wide range of sources for his inspiration-Sanin owes debts to Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground, Nietzsche's notion of the "superman," and the work of the individualist anarchist philosopher Johann Kaspar Schmidt. Michael R. Katz's translation of this controversial novel is the first into English in almost seventy years.
"Russian pornography is not plain pornography such as the French and Germans produce, but pornography with ideas."-Kornei Chukovsky
"Those who saw in the much discussed novel only suggestive scenes, shocking their morality or titillating their senses, were mistaken; it was, as usual in Russia, a book with a message, and Sanin slept with all his mistresses to prove a thesis rather than to obey a natural urge."-Marc Slonim
Publisher: Cornell University Press
Number of pages: 280
Weight: 425 g
Dimensions: 235 x 155 x 15 mm
"Russian pornography, Kornei Chukovskii once asserted, differs from pornography of the French or German variety by being so thoroughly permeated with ideas. In Artsybashev's Sanin, this 'pornography with ideas' is closely associated with-and openly espoused by-the novel's eponymous hero, a quiet, self-assured, serene, and enigmatic young man, who returns to his hometown after spending his formative years traveling extensively and experiencing native life in a way that shaped his character as very unconventional, individualistic, and original.... Michael Katz's lively, highly readable translation is accompanied by Otto Boele's very helpful Introduction, which places the novel in its historical (mainly sociocultural) contest, and by Nicholas Luker's quite insightful Afterword, which explores the philosophical ideas and literary qualities that inform Sanin."-- Ronald LeBlanc, University of New Hampshire * The Russian Review *
"Though the novel may be alternately quaint and tendentious, its hero has enough mystery to engage modern readers of all levels who are interested in fin-de-siecle Russia."* Choice *
"With his masterful translation Michael R. Katz has revived an important novel-one that sent shock waves from one end of the Russian Empire to the other in 1907. Some Russian critics attacked it as immoral, others as a distortion of reality, and a few found some art in it.... The Cornell edition is a welcome revival of a good novel."-- Rodney L. Patterson, State University of New York at Albany * Canadian Slavonic Papers *
"Boele's well-researched introduction goes far in explaining the novel's significance within its cultural context including Free Love Societies. He also suggests that Sanin should be interpreted as a modern addition to the line of strong individuals represented by Pechorin and Bazarov. Within this framework the novel takes on a broader significance than just that of pornography or outrageous literature."-- Frederick H. White, Memorial University of Newfoundland * Slavic and East European Journal *
"There's little doubt that Artsybashev's defiant iconoclasm... has genuine literary as well as historical importance. A significant work."* Kirkus Reviews *
"Deemed pornographic when first published in Russia in 1908... this book drew inspiration from such figures as Dostoyevsky and Nietzsche.... Although tame by modern standards, Sanin's combination of sensualism and individualism outraged members of the Russian literary establishment, but appealed to younger readers eager for change."* Publishers Weekly *