Postwar East European Prose

Comparative Literature--Slavic V3223, 3.0 points, Fall 1999

Prof. David Goldfarb

TTh 11:00-12:25, 227 Milbank

This course will consider narrative strategies for coping with the East European condition--if such a single condition may be said to exist--from World War II through the period of Soviet hegemony to the present. While Soviet oppression and influence, and state censorship raise obvious issues in this literature, we will also try to view the cultures of Eastern Europe as distinct entities with particular histories, cultural identities, and intellectual traditions. As such, we will compare the effects of the double marginalization of Eastern Europe--being neither fully Soviet nor fully “European”--in several of its states in this century. Other issues to be discussed include: the residue of the Second World War, feminism in the context of Eastern Europe, ethnic identity, and intellectualism. Works by authors such as Tadeusz Borowski, Czeslaw Milosz, Tadeusz Konwicki, Christa Wolf, György Konrad, Miklos Haraszti, Danilo Kiš, Milorad Pavic, Milan Kundera, Josef Škvorecký, Tereza Bouckova, and others. Readings in this course may vary substantially from semester to semester and can be adjusted in any given term to reflect the interests of the course participants.

7 September—Introduction

9 September—Tadeusz Borowski, This Way to the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen

14 September—Borowski

16 September—Czeslaw Milosz, The Captive Mind

21 September—Milosz

23 September—Miklos Haraszti, The Velvet Prison

28 September—Haraszti

30 September—Tadeusz Konwicki, A Minor Apocalypse

5 October—Konwicki

7 October—György Konrad, The Case Worker

12 October—Konrad

14 October—Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

19 October—Kundera


26 October—Josef Škvorecky, The Engineer of Human Souls

28 October—Škvorecky

2 November—Election Day Holiday

4 November—Škvorecky

9 November—Danilo Kiš, Encyclopedia of the Dead

11 November—Kiš

16 November—Milorad Pavic, Dictionary of the Khazars

18 November—Pavic

-23 November—Christa Wolf, Cassandra

25 November—Thanksgiving Break

30 November—Wolf

2 December—Tereza Bouckova (selections)

7 December—Bouckova

9 December—Conclusions and Review.

16 December—FINAL EXAM DUE

Grades will be weighted as follows:

 Participation    15%
 Midterm Exam     35%
 Final Exam       50%


READING—The readings above are listed as they will be discussed in class and should be read in advance of the day they are covered. Most materials will be available at Labyrinth Books, and others will be available for short-term use from the bins on my office door, 226a Milbank. Be sure to use the editions assigned. It is important to note that along with the issue of the quality of different translations, other editions may vary in content due to censorship reflected even in English translations produced at various times.

If you know or are learning the original languages of the texts we are studying, you are welcome to read in the original. Some of the works on the list should be quite accessible to students at the third-year level of language study. If you would like some advice in this regard, please see me during the office hour.

EXAMS—There will be two exams to be completed at home in essay format covering all the readings in the course. The questions will be comparative in nature and will require careful reading of individual works as well as connections between works. Some works from the first half of the term will appear on the final exam as well as the midterm, so be sure to include them in your review.


This portion of your grade includes your productive oral participation in class, attendance, the extent to which your written assignments reflect that you are listening actively in class, and the improvement in your work over the course of the semester. Students enroll in the class with varying degrees of preparation. Even if you enter the class with a strong background in the subject, you must demonstrate that you are learning something from this class in order to do well in it. If you are studying the subject for the first time, do not fear that you will forever be lagging behind the more advanced students. Hard work will be rewarded!

You are strongly encouraged to discuss the assignments with me at my office hours or in e-mail. There will be no opportunities for extra credit, but there is ample opportunity for extra preparation, if you sense that you are having particular difficulty with the material.


25 September 2005