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April 06, 1984 - Image 4

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1984-04-06

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page4 Friday, April 6, 1984 The Michigan Daily
Suffering stimulates the creative mind

Sasha Sokolov, a Russian emigre
writer, visited Ann Arbor last week
along with five other celebrated
Russian artists. Sokolov spoke with
Daily staff reporter Roxana Kaveh
on his impressions of Russian and
American culture and its effect on,
the artist. Sokolov's life is perhaps a
case of the truth being stranger than
fiction. His father, a retired general
of the Soviet Army, and mother,
both worked in the Russian em-
bassy. They created a scandal in
Canada when they were exposed as
Russian spies. Sokolov rebelled
against his father and the Russian
system. To get out of a military
school, he feigned insanity. Later,
his father used this same trick again-
st him when Sokolov announced his
intention of marrying a foreign
woman-his father signed papers to
commit him to a KGB asylum. But
Sokolov went on a hunger strike and
all the publicity surrounding it
finally forced the U.S.S.R. to
grant him an exit visa.
"School for Fools, " Sokolov's
novel that was actually completed in
the United States, has received rave
reviews from Russian literary
authorities, and he is considered by
many scholars to be the greatest
contemporary novelist.
* * * *
DAILY: What memories do you have
of growing up in the Soviet Union?
SOKOLOV: Life with my parents in
Russia was a constant struggle. As a

boy, I could compare miy situation with
my friends. I noticed the differences, I
had reasons to envy them. I could not
help the situation. Then I became
rebelious and ran away from home
many times.
DAILY: Is it the system that made
your parents treat you so poorly?
SOKOLOV: Yes, my father was a
young leader, when authorities found
out about his aristocratic background.
He had to take an oath that he would
completely reject his family. That was
his first betrayal in my mind. Later on,
he betrayed me again by signing a
paper for the KGB stating that I was in-
sane. That was the logical end of my
relationship with both him and the
DAILY: You speak of the system but
not Russia. What about Russia, your
SOKOLOV: I am proud of it. It is big
and beautiful. People are smart, kind
and strong. But I feel sorry about their
situation. It is a love/hate relationship.
DAILY: You left Russia.. Do you
regret it? Do you feel guilty that you
left friends who are persecuted while
you live a happy and comfortable life in
the U.S.?
SOKOLOV: No, I do not feel
obligated. Of course, even a wolf misses
his home when he moves away. True
that my friends are persecuted and are
in prison. Things are even getting
worse. But not all Russians have to be
slaves. Some have to be free to speak
for them and lead a normal life for
DAILY: You have quite a life story.
When and how did you turn to writing?
SOKOLOV: It was not all of a sudden.
I knew of my art from an early age.
When I was five years old, I -started
writing, even though I could hardly un-
derstand what it was I was writing. In
Russia, writing is not a profession but a
way of being, or a state of mind.
Therefore, I became a journalist, the
closest thing to writing. It is not so ac-
curate and, unlike writing prose, 99
percent of the time it is not yourself that
you are writing about.
DAILY: Throughout history, Russian

DAILY: What about your own suf-
fering? After reading "School for
Fools", your first novel, I felt the suf-
fering projected-I sensed and even
(the way you like to put it) smelled it on
every page.
SOKOLOV: Yes, suffering is the
yeast for the bread of art. After all, as I
said before, 99 percent of most
literature is about the writer.
DAILY: I was trying to lead our
discussion to the following question:
What if you were born in the U.S., in a
happy middle class family? Could you
still have become a great writer?
SOKOLOV: This is the kind of a
question that I would like to get an an-
swer for myself. My friends say I would
have been a professional football player
because I like the sport so much.
DAILY: Solzhenitsy once said, "If a
deep-sea fish used to a constant
pressure of many atmospheres rises to
the surface, it perishes because it con-
not adjust to the excessively low
pressure." What about you? Perhaps,
soon you will have fame and money.
What will happen to you and your
SOKOLOV: It would be a hard life.
This is a relaxation time for me. I do not
feel like I must wrtie something great
for others. I write what I want to write.
DAILY: Would you run out of ideas if
you were to become rich and lead "the
easy life?"
DAILY: So, you could have been a
writer if you were born in America?
SOKOLOV: Yes, I think, because I
wanted to write even before realizing
that my tongue was Russian.
DAILY: When the book is done your
performance is over?
SOKOLOV: In a sense, yes. As a
writer you are performing in silence in
front of an empty hall with audiences
only in your imagination. Writing in
this sense is not as inspiring and spon-
taneous as dancing to music.
DAILY: Time magazine said that
your work has not gained adequate
recognition because of the difficulty in
translating it. Even the Russian edition

is a challenge to read and understand.
SOKOLOV: I was surprised and
shocked that people did not understand
it. I am not going to change my style
because my work is hard to read. My
work is difficult. Here in the U.S. they
write quite differently. Many best-
sellers are child's fairy tales written for
the grown ups. It is probably the
culture. Americans are used to an easy
life without suffering.
DAILY: Do you think American
literature is suffering from the disad-
vantage called living in paradise?
SOKOLOV: Yes. Eight years ago, af-
ter a few months in the U.S. in a bus
station I saw a beautiful young woman
crying so hard. I realized then that
there is griefin this country. Before, for
me there was no death in California.
Even cemeteries looked like parks. But
then, I thought what was the grief of
that woman? Murder, rape, a lost
lover? Then, I wondered, "Is that all
American writers can write about?"
DAILY: I guess the grief following a
lost freedom or a repressed life seems
to you a more meaningful topic to write
DELL: It has to do with the tradition.
Here, in America, we have more of a
musical tradition than a literary one.
SOKOLOV: This is the wrong time to
be a writer in the U.S. It is better to be a
DAILY: What do you think of Michael
SOKOLOV: He is not very ex-
pressive. Even his dancing is nothing
like Baryshnikov. For me, and for
Russians, there is a standard for art. A
great artist sets some standards. To
become a star you have to be better and
pass. this level. That is why there are
few stars in Russia. For me, there was
Elvis Presley. Now, who is better?
Nobody is in his genre.
Kaveh is from the Persian section
of Azarbajan bordering Russia and
Iran. Dialogue is an occasional
feature of the Daily.

Daily Photo by DOUG McMAHON
Sasha Sokolov, a Russian emigre writer, stands next to the Modern
Language Building on a recent visit to Ann Arbor. Burton Tower looms in the
distance behind him just as the Soviet government's power over him is only
now felt from a distance.

people have endured constant suf-
fering. During these periods, many
great writers have emerged. Even now,
many of the greatest contemporary
writers are from Russia. Is suffering
the essential inspiration for creating
great literature?
SOKOLOV: Surely. They call
Israelites the chosen people. Let's call
Russia the chosen land. The land is for
suffering. Siberia is a big concentraion

camp. I could say the whole Soviet
Union is a concentration camp. Of
course, this is only an image.
DAILY: Ironically, the country has
turned out some of the greatest writers
of all time, such as Tolstoy and
SOKOLOV: Of course, because the
sense of grief is like a huge wave that
lifts you up. I compare it with . . . like
flying the wings of your griefs.

Edited and managed by students at The University of Michigan


Vol. XCIV-No. 149

420 Maynard St.
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

Editorials represent a majority opinion of the Daily's Editorial Board
Begging the question



really desperate to find students
who support the proposed code for non-
academic conduct since they sent out
special invitations to 500 students -
supposedly a random sample - for a
special hearing on the topic. Although
it seems the administration has been
trying to deny student opposition to the
code, they must have realized that you
can only ignore student opinion for so
This is evident in their recent
decision to hold off on a vote by the
regents regarding the code until next
September. While it is noble of the
regents to wait to make a decision on
this important issue until they can
measure student opinion, recent com-
ments from University officials and
the organization of the special hearing
prove that the University is willing to
dig as far as they can to turn 'up the
few'students who may actually support
the code.
University officials claim that such
things as the Michigan Student
Assembly's unanimous vote rejecting
/the code of non-academic conduct
represent a vocal minority opinion on
campus - forget the fact that MSA is
supposed to represent the voice of
University students just as the regents
are supposed to represent the voice of
the citizens who elect them.
It seems to have slipped the minds of

originally drafted the code last winter,
have their heart set on getting the con-
duct code adopted.
Colburn went so far as to say that the
overwhelming student vote against the
code last month was "very en-
couraging" for those who support the
code. "I think when you get almost 20
percent supporting (the code) that's
fantastic," he said. Obviously officials
such as Colburn are not really looking
for the majority opinion on campus,
they only want to get a few students -
if possible - to back them. Then it may
be easier for the regents to change
Regents' Bylaw 7.02 so that MSA and
the faculty government don't have to
approve of the code in order for it to be
Furthermore, Colburn's statement
that the University hasn't had an equal
chance to sway student opinion on the
matter is extremely humorous. "If we
had an equal chance, I'm sure we
would have come out on top," he said.
Colburn implies that the University,
though it publishes press releases
every day through University News
and Information Services and sends
out numerous pro-Univeristy
publications to students and their
parents, including the University
Record, has not been able to inform as
many students as the Daily and other
student organizations.
While Colburn's comments may be

. kllLJ i


r . .

SVR axrts..
PSN did stage small anti-CIA protest

To the Daily:
Contrary to your story "CIA
recruits at 'U' draw no protest"
(Daily, March 28), the
Progressive Student Network did
protest the presence of the CIA on
campus. The protest, however,
was not in the form of a rally, but
rather was on a smaller level out-
side the Career Planning and
Placement Office. A few mem-
bers of the PSN stationed them-
selves there with a sign that
read: "The CIA has a JOB to be

done: Torture, Surveilance, In-
surgency, False Information,
Blackmail, Assassination." A
life-size poster was also used to
demonstrate torture techniques
that the CIA uses and that the
CIA teaches to the secret police in
other nations.
We did run into a problem when
we began to hand out an "Official
Application" to people going to

Career Planning and Placement.
The application asked if the per-
son had any experience in tor-
ture, invading foreign countries,
and assassination among other
things. It also required the per-
son to sign his or her soul away
to the CIA. The problem was that
people believed we were with the
CIA. We have learned something
out of the experience though. Ac-

cording to Virginia Stegath,
director of Career Planning and
Placement's recruiting program,
the CIA will probably not come if
their visit is widely publicized.
I'd like to thank Stegath for the
advice and also let her know that
the welcome wagon is being
readied now for their next visit.
-David Buchen
April 2
by Berke Breathed






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