In Unit 7, we were analyzing Stalin’s Terror (also known as the Great Purge or the Purge of Terror) was a period in Soviet Russia that lasted between 1936-1938. During this period, people were arrested and made to disappear under the charges that they were opposing the Soviet Revolution. As a result, approximately 681,692–1,200,000 died under the Soviet Union’s Gulag system.

The NKVD (the Soviet Union’s secret police force) was tasked with heavily policing the people living in the Soviet Union in almost every aspect of daily life, including dictating how people should live, how people should talk, and what people should read. If these people acted in any way that could have deviated even slightly from the Soviet way, they could have risked imprisonment. Consequently, these people were in a perpetual state of confusion and fear, wondering if they were going to be next on the NKVD’s suspect list. 

In this Unit, we were tasked with reading Sofia Petrovna written by Lydia Chukovskaya and Requiem by Anna Akhmatova, which talked about the suffering of people under Stalin’s Terror. Although both of these pieces were written during the Great Purge, neither was published for decades due to the heavy censorship and consequences that these authors could have faced. We learned that although the authors of the era faced heavy restrictions from the government, they had a couple of (difficult) choices. Authors could choose to write for the drawer, writing as freely as they may wish but never be published; or, the authors would take a risk and publish their pieces in an attempt to bypass censorship. Unfortunately, many of those Authors who did manage to publish their work would commit suicide after the fact to avoid the consequences.

When my AT group read the two different translations of Akhmatova’s Requiem, we unanimously agreed that the Anderson and Thomas translations of Requiem are hugely different from each other. It is mind-boggling to think that both of these translations came from the same text; one would think that translations from the same source would share some resemblance with each other, but it was not the case. 

After some more reading, we came to the conclusion that the Anderson translation felt better than the Thomas translation. While the Anderson translation flowed as if it was actually poetry, Thomas’s translation did not. This shows that Anderson chose to stick to a more artistic translation approach whereas Thomas chose to sacrifice poetic flow for the sake of source fidelity. As we talked about Requiem, I was reminded of the Translation Panel we attended in Unit 2 (see Post 2) in which we learned about the challenges faced when translating literature. One of the biggest choices a translator makes before starting a translation is whether they choose to translate the original literature word for word or to sacrifice an exact translation to make the translation have a more poetic cadence. 

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I cannot believe that schools don’t teach us about this! This is such major stuff but Russia is taking the effort to hide it. I am upset!

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I’m curious to know when the first exile camp was built in Siberia and I want to know about how they were managed as well as if the leaders of those camps faced any consequences in the period following Stalin’s terror.