Guzel Yakhina’s Russia, history is like a slingshot

With an ironic smile, a sudden frown or a lively wave of the hand, Guzel Yakhina expresses her freedom in the best possible way. From the beginning “Special Operation” in Ukraine, under the Kremlin’s understatement, “Everything has become more difficult…” in today’s Russia, sighs the author, one of the leading faces of the new Moscow literary generation. Unlike many other writers like her who were hostile to Vladimir Putin’s regime and opposed his military offensive, Guzel Yakhina chose to stay in Moscow.

Resentment to remain

Lyudmila Ulytska found refuge in Paris, Volodymyr Sorokin – in Berlin. Dmytro Hlukhovskyi, author of the bestseller Subway 2033, was on the list of wanted by Russian justice. He faces up to ten years in prison for criticizing the Russian army on social media since the start of the intervention in Ukraine on February 24. Guzel Yakhina does not want to leave Moscow: “This is my city, my life, my country”. A writer and mother of a teenage daughter, she insists: “We can be against and stay. But I have to be careful what I say in public, especially to a foreign journalist.” she warns.

The restrained and cautious Guzel Yakhina meets guests at a table a few metro stations from the center of the capital. “We now live under censorship” she recalls. An allusion to the new law, which provides up to fifteen years of imprisonment for any publication of information about the army, which the authorities recognize as false. The writer talks about“operation”, without using a more obvious word to describe an ongoing military event, but subject to legal action. However, Guzel Yakhina talks about the availability “to call a spade a spade” in a post on social networks condemning the attack on February 24. Since then, she has not changed her mind. But no longer transmits its message.

To criticize, Guzel Yakhina knows how to trick, between verbal distortions and facial gestures. Grimace – the answer to the question about the regime of Vladimir Putin. Should Russians fight for more freedom? “I will answer by quoting Dmitry Medvedev, who once said: ‘Freedom is better than no freedom.’ » In sarcasm, the remark refers to recent remarks by former prime minister Vladimir Putin’s understudy, long considered a liberal but who, now a regime hawk, has described Western liberals as “bastards and degenerates”. Guzel Yakhina laughs and rushes: “The main difference between Europe and Russia? Freedom. » New shared smiles.

“The past to better understand the present”

— But let’s talk about my books instead! No politics…” Guzel Yakhina admires. While many new Russian authors, rebellious in soul and style, project themselves into science fiction, the writer seeks refuge in history. The Kremlin regime avoids any collective reflections on the Soviet past. On the contrary, Guzel Yakhina’s books offer a lesson in historical humility. “And thus, this is the way to freedom”she slides Zuleikha opens her eyes (1), the story of a Tatar peasant woman during Stalin’s dispossession, became her first bestseller, selling more than a million copies worldwide.

His second novel was similarly translated into French Children of the Volga (1) returns to another tragic page of the first Soviet decades, the page of the German colonies along the famous Russian river, wonderful, but crossed out by many historical tears. “These are times of drama and energy, blood and creativity, tears and enthusiasm,” explains Guzel Yakhina, who, inspired by the past, says she cannot write about the present. “Reviews, our books – a bridge between generations”, she insists. Not to mention his ulterior motives.

“It is a mistake to believe that the fall of the communist regime in 1990 caused the collapse of the USSR. She is still alive, in our heads– says Guzel Yakhina. Writing about what happened during the Soviet Union is still very relevant today. » Therefore, she prefers to delve into history, describing all shades of gray Russian society, without black and white clichés. “The past to better understand the present…, does she summarize, to find this living reality in our far-from-free country: people are afraid. » Everything is said between the lines.

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