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updated 04/06/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/06/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

With the pending publication of some long-suppressed and long-awaited books, 1987 is shaping up as a landmark year for Soviet literature. Soviets revere their writers, whose power has always made the authorities uneasy; literary greats from Pushkin to Dostoyevsky to Pasternak to Solzhenitsyn have been in and out of trouble—and prison—since czarist times. Soviet rulers also make it hard for citizens to obtain even those works of merit that aren't banned. Regardless of public demand, books typically get runs of 50,000 to 200,000 copies from state publishing houses. Popular books sell out pronto, leaving bookstores full of technical tomes and shelves and shelves of Lenin's writings. Compared with American shops, Soviet bookstores are very sedate. Paperbacks are rare and hard covers are quite plain, adorned only by the title and author's name. Good quality art books as well as prints are available. One can also find strident (though cheap and colorful) propaganda posters, including virulently anti-American blasts showing capitalists and Pentagon fiends clutching at the globe with bloody, insectlike hands.

The demand for this year's books just off the censors' shelves won't make them any easier to find. Currently topping the black-market best-seller list at 35 rubles ($50), 10 times the original newsstand price, are the three 1986 issues of the magazine Novy Mir (new world) serializing Chingiz Aitmatov's The Chopping Block. Set in Central Asia, the novel recounts the martyrdom of an expelled seminarian who turned crusading journalist, and whose investigative reporting leads him into a drug smuggling ring. Though artistically uneven, the book violates pre-Gorbachev bans on writing about spiritual faith and the Soviet drug problem. It even capitalizes "God." Anatoly Rybakov's The Children of the Arbat is not yet in print, but already it is the literary sensation of the year—the first major treatment of Stalin's terror in fiction since Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich in 1962. The Russian émigré writer and American literary giant Vladimir (Lolita) Nabokov will have a posthumous homecoming with the appearance of his chess novel, The Defense, his first complete work ever published in his native land. Literary circles are also buzzing over Vladimir Dudintsev's White Clothes, a novel about Stalin's suppression of genetic science; war novelist Vasily Bykov's tale of a returning WWII veteran, Career; and Victor Astafyev's The Sad Detective, about a police investigator's soul-searching as he is compromised by the criminal activity around him. Finally, rumors have been flying since last fall that Nobel prizewinner Boris Pasternak's epic novel, Doctor Zhivago—a bestseller in the West since 1958 but still banned in the U.S.S.R.—will be published next year.

Such groundbreaking publication contrasts with a typical new work by popular novelist Valery Belov, Everything in the Future. The juicy plot charts the collapse of a typically happy Soviet family, brought on by adultery, drunkenness and betrayal. It's preachy, but a good read. Among recent English-language books turned out in Moscow is Weaponry in Space: the Dilemma of Security, edited by prominent scientists Yevgeny Velikhov, Roald Sagdeyev and Andrei Kokoshin. It makes a neat scientific case for the Kremlin's opposition to space-based missile defenses. The Novosti Press Agency's U.S.S.R.: 100 Questions and Answers provides simple and ideologically sound responses to such nuisance questions asked by Westerners as "Why is there no freedom of the press in the U.S.S.R.?" The up-to-date answer may be that now there's a little more than before.

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