June 16, 2017

The Ugly Swans: When life imitates art


Illustration from a Soviet edition of The Ugly Swans, by Andrei Karapetian.

In Russia, June 12th is celebrated as Russia Day, an annual commemoration of the nation’s withdrawal from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. It’s usually a day of celebration. Instead, this year, thousands of people took to the streets in mass protests, amid cries of “Putin out!” and “Russia without thieves!” Among them, according to reporting by the Russian news site dp.ru, was Boris Strugatsky, grandson of the Russian novelist by the same name, detained by authorities on the Marsovo Pole (“Field of Mars”) in St. Petersburg. The senior Boris Strugatsky, who died in 2012, was, with his elder brother Arkadii Strugatsky, co-author of a number of science fiction novels that are fiercely beloved in Russia — two of which Melville House has published in English.

A new wave of anti-corruption demonstrations in Russia started up a few months ago. Most of the protesters are university and high school students, no older than their early twenties. In a country where majorities always seem to find the government agreeable, this is both unexpected and refreshing.

And some of the nation’s many Strugatsky fans, both old and new, are drawing parallels between the current situation and the brothers’ 1987 novel The Ugly Swans. It’s the story of a strange town in a mildly authoritarian country, where the rain never stops. There is conflict between two generations: conformist adults who lead boring, unproductive lives, and their children, who refuse to follow in their elders’ footsteps, and eventually leave town, at last finding their way to sunshine.

Russian bloggers have estimated that 500 of the city’s 10,000 protesters are being detained, dozens of them minors. Speaking of the younger Strugatsky, authorities told dp.ru, “He’s not a minor. We’re ensuring that everyone in detention is being fed well.”



Marina Drukman is the art director at Melville House.