November 01, 2000

The Poetic Idol of 1941

On November 28th war veterans and poetry lovers will mark the 85th anniversary of the birth of Konstantin Simonov (1915-1979), writer, poet and playwright.

Simonov was the author of several military novels. In the two most notable ones, The Living and the Dead (1959), and One is Not Born a Soldier (1964), he sought to portray war truthfully, even raising such difficult topics as the true reason for Russia’s retreat in the first months of WWII: the repressions of Soviet military commanders.  The novels were relatively sincere and fresh for their time—in notable contrast to several hack ideological pieces Simonov produced in the stifling post-war era of high-Stalinism. But even in this period of “The Thaw,” Simonov had to proceed cautiously, resorting to hints and euphemisms; Simonov did not allow himself the literary boldness of Vassily Grossman. This “diplomatic skill” garnered him the difficult task of editor at the influential journal Novy Mir in the four year hiatus (1954-1958) between Alexander Tvardovsky’s two tenures in that post.

Toward the end of his life, perhaps feeling guilty for his conformism, Simonov wrote a more outspoken memoir, Through the Eyes of a Man of My Generation. In the book, Simonov tried to convey his own, uncensored view on the era in which he was active in the ideological life of the country, in the 1940s and 1950s. He tried to express what he felt was an objective view of this era, namely of Stalin, but also of his own role when editing Novy Mir and the leading literary newspaper, Literaturnaya Gazeta. Written in 1979, Simonov’s memoir was not published until 1988. Three years previous, in 1985, a street in Moscow was named after the writer.

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