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Russia: 'Pornographic' Novelist Sorokin Defends Work

Forty-seven-year-old Moscow-based novelist Vladimir Sorokin is the author of numerous works of avant-garde fiction that have been published in more than 10 countries. But his biggest claim to fame is his 1999 novel "Goluboe Salo" (Blue Lard), which was recently condemned as pornographic for a scene that depicts homosexual contact between Josef Stalin and Nikita Khrushchev. Sorokin attracted the attention of prosecutors after Walking Together, a pro-Kremlin youth group, filed a criminal complaint alleging that the novel is contaminating Russian literature. Sorokin spoke to RFE/RL about the pornography charges, his growing popularity, and the meaning of "Blue Lard."

Moscow, 29 July 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Walking Together, a youth group that supports Russian President Vladimir Putin, staged demonstrations earlier this month in the center of Moscow to protest a novel by avant-garde writer Vladimir Sorokin.

The novel is "Goluboye Salo," a 1999 book that, among other things depicts a homosexual love scene between Soviet leaders Josef Stalin and Nikita Khrushchev. According to the young detractors of Walking Together, that scene is contributing to the deterioration of Russian literature. The group has filed criminal charges against Sorokin to drive its point home.

In an interview with RFE/RL, Sorokin described how he felt seeing copies of his book ripped apart and thrown into a makeshift toilet during a Walking Together protest outside the city's Bolshoi Theater. "This is a political order from certain circles that pursue certain aims. Together with their selfish ends, [these people] tried to test society's strength in order to see if it is possible to bend it, and whether it is possible to manipulate culture. Moreover, I think that [one of the] aims of this action is to compromise [Russian President Vladimir] Putin in the eyes of the West. But maybe their aim is simpler: It may just be personal delirium on the part of Walking Together. [In any case], it is a fascist event anytime a writer's books are destroyed in the center of Moscow. I can't remember such a thing happening even in postrevolutionary days. This action has been condemned in the West and it still led to a criminal case being opened against me," Sorokin said.

RFE/RL asked Sorokin why Walking Together, widely considered a pro-Putin group, would want to compromise the president's reputation abroad. Sorokin said that in Russia, it is always difficult to understand the true meaning of events. "Our country -- as [Winston] Churchill said -- is like an enormous shroud, from under which dead, bloody bodies are periodically thrown out. Nobody knows what is going on under that shroud. For sure, there is some sort of struggle taking place. [In my case,] nobody knows whether Walking Together is really for Putin or against Putin. There are many questions surrounding this issue, but so far I haven't met a single person who can explain what is happening. It's impossible," Sorokin said.

Sorokin, who describes his book as a serious look at the death of Russian literature, appeared before Russian prosecutors today to discuss the charges against him. The author has said that the suit will either lead to censorship or a victory for reason.

Regardless of the legal outcome, one thing is certain: The publicity surrounding the "Blue Lard" case has caused Sorokin's sales to soar. A commercial director for Moscow's central Dom Knigi bookstore was cited in the Russian press as saying the store was selling more than 120 copies of the book a day.

RFE/RL asked Sorokin how he felt about his newfound popularity. "I don't like this kind of dirty publicity. That's not the kind of publicity you want, when your books are destroyed in the center of Moscow. It's very sad. I don't want to be popular at this cost. I don't want these modern-day thugs to organize publicity events for me. I'm not happy with it. I'd like all this to be over with as soon as possible," Sorokin said.

Asked whether the recent controversy has affected his ability to work, Sorokin said it is difficult at times to concentrate on new projects. "At the moment, I'm working on a libretto of an opera for the Bolshoi Theater. And it's a pity that these events [with 'Blue Lard'] have distracted me from my work. I have to, for example, grant you an interview, though it is something I don't like to do. I want to concentrate on my work. This is why I want the issue to be over as soon as possible," Sorokin said.

Some critics say "Blue Lard" is disturbing because many of its scenes -- such as the sex scene between Stalin and Khrushchev -- seek to crush Soviet-era myths. RFE/RL asked Sorokin to explain the true meaning of "Blue Lard," but Sorokin said a writer cannot explain his work. "It is a question that [writer Vladimir] Nabokov called unsolvable. If a writer tries to answer such a question, he would stop writing. The book is the answer to the question. You can find it in 'Blue Lard,'" Sorokin said.

Interfax news agency reported that Sorokin was similarly circumspect in his meeting today with prosecutors from the Moscow police department. Sorokin refused to testify, saying it is humiliating for a writer to offer explanations for the things he writes.