Victims of Soviet Terror in the Prose of Sergey Lebedev and Nikolay Kononov: The Prism of Postmemory

Keywords: 21st-century Russian literature, victim, perpetrator, postmemory, terror, trauma, Nikolai Kononov, Sergei Lebedev


This article discusses the prose of the Russian writers Sergey Lebedev and Nikolay V. Kononov, who address state terror and violence. The aforementioned authors take into account the experience of the post-Holocaust European culture of remembrance, which is constituted by the figure of the victim and tends to interpret the tragic events of the Soviet past using the concepts and theoretical frameworks of memory and trauma studies. In this article, Lebedev’s and Kononov’s prose is seen as an integral part of the Russian liberal-oriented memory project, which is based on late-Soviet dissident culture, the perestroika “culture of repentance,” and Western cultural models of “working through the past.” In rediscovering the topic of Stalinist terror, Lebedev and Kononov reassert its ideological and moral significance and attempt to place it on the current public agenda. Both writers proceed from the need to redress injustices against the victims of state violence, whose suffering was long silenced in the USSR. They work with documents, personal testimonies, and family history to tell stories of victims missing from the historical record and thus undermine the dominance of the state-supported heroic narrative. Such an approach brings Lebedev and Kononov closer to the tradition of Soviet camp prose, but this was prose of testimony, created by survivors of camps: the modern novelists have no such experience and rely on their imagination, documents, and previous representations of Stalinist terror. They consider the historical experience of state terror and the figure of the victim from the perspective of postmemory (M. Hirsch), which prompts them to postulate the existence of so-called “inherited trauma” and explore its social and emotional consequences in the lives of different generations. Thus, they observe the “post-existence of the GULAG” and paradoxical interactions between victims and perpetrators through the prism of “inherited” trauma and memory.

Author Biography

Anna Razuvalova

PhD (Philology), Institute of Russian Literature (Pushkin House) of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

4, Makarov Embankment, 199034, St Petersburg, Russia.

ORCID 0000-0002-5446-587X


Alexander, J. (2013). Smysly sotsial’noi zhizni: kul’tursotsiologiya [The Meanings of Social Life: A Cultural Sociology]. Moscow, Praksis. 640 p.

Assmann, A. (2014). Dlinnaya ten’ proshlogo. Memorial’naya kul’tura i istoricheskaya politika [Der lange Schatten der Vergangenheit. Erinnerungskultur und Geschichtspolitik]. Moscow, Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie. 328 p.

Assmann, A. (2016). Novoe nedovol’stvo memorial’noi kul’turoi [Das neue Unbehagen an der Erinnerungskultur. Eine Intervention]. Moscow, Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie. 232 p.

Badiou, A. (2005). Meta/Politika. Mozhno li myslit’ politiku? Kratkii traktat po metapolitike [Peut-on penser la politique? Abrégé de métapolitique]. Moscow, Logos. 240 p.

Chitatel’ No. 24. Nikolai Kononov [Reader No. 24. Nikolai Kononov]. (2018). In Pod.FM [website]. Nov. 26. URL: (accessed: 29.05.2021).

Crownshaw, R. (2011). Perpetrator Fictions and Transcultural Memory. In Parallax. Vol. 17. No. 4, pp. 75–89. DOI 10.1080/13534645.2011.605582.

Druz’ya. Nikolai V. Kononov – Sergei Lebedev [Friends. Nikolai V. Kononov – Sergey Lebedev]. (2016). In [website]. Dec. 21. URL: (accessed: 31.05.2021).

Epple, N. (2020). Neudobnoe proshloe. Pamyat’ o gosudarstvennykh prestupleniyakh v Rossii i drugikh stranakh [An Inconvenient Past. The Memory of State Crimes in Russia and Other Countries]. Moscow, Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie. 576 p.

Esipov, V. (1994). Traditsii russkogo Soprotivleniya [Traditions of Russian Resistance]. In Shalamovskii sbornik. Iss. 1. Vologda, Izdatel’stvo instituta povysheniya kvalifikatsii i perepodgotovki pedagogicheskikh kadrov, pp. 183–194.

Etkind, A. (2016). Krivoe gore. Pamyat’ o nepogrebennykh [Warped Mourning. Stories of the Undead in the Land of the Unburied]. Moscow, Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie. 328 p.

Fanailova, E. (2018). “Pamyat’, govori” (beseda s M. Stepanovoi i S. Lebedevym) [Speak, Memory (An Interview with M. Stepanova and S. Lebedev)]. In Radio Svoboda [website]. Apr. 19. URL: (accessed: 29.07.2021).

Gabowitsch, M. (2017). Foils and Mirrors: The Soviet Intelligentsia and German Atonement. In Gabowitsch, M. (Ed.). Replicating Atonement. Foreign Models in the Commemoration of Atrocities. Cham, Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 267–302. DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-65027-2_11.

Giesen, B. (2004). Triumph and Trauma. Boulder, Colorado, L., Paradigm Publ. 208 p.

Hirsch, M. (2008). The Generation of Postmemory. In Poetics Today. Vol. 29. No. 1, pp. 103–128. DOI 10.1215/03335372-2007-019.

Hirsch, M. (2012). The Generation of Postmemory: Writing and Visual Culture after the Holocaust. N. Y. : Columbia Univ. Press. 305 p.

Iofe, V. V. (2003). Granitsy smysla [The Limits of Meaning]. St Petersburg, Nord-Vest. 376 p.

Jones, P. (2013). Myth, Memory, Trauma: Rethinking the Stalinist Past in the Soviet Union, 1953–1970. N. Haven, Yale Univ. Press. 360 p.

Khasaia, Kh. (2019). Pisatel’ Sergei Lebedev ob otvetstvennosti za proshloe i sovremennoi Rossii [The Writer Sergey Lebedev on Responsibility for the Past in Modern Russia]. In Sova.News [website]. June 26. URL: (accessed: 30.05.2021).

Kononov, N. (2016). Glavnym trendom 2017 goda budet, konechno, peresborka pamyati [The Main Trend in 2017 Will Be Memory Reconfiguration]. In Facebook [website]. Dec. 19. URL: (accessed: 12.05.2021).

Kononov, N. (2018). Zakonchilsya eksperiment v dva goda dlinoi [The Two-Year Experiment Is Over]. Nov. 21. In Facebook [website]. URL: (accessed: 12.05.2021).

Kononov, N. (2019a). Vosstanie [The Uprising]. Moscow, Novoe izdatel’stvo. 310 p.

Kononov, N. (2019b). Sluchainaya zhertva [A Random Victim]. In Seans [website]. Dec. 6. URL: (accessed: 12.05.2021).

Kononov, N. (2019с). Kak prizraki proshlogo pozhirayut budushchee (i tekhnologii im pomogayut) [How Ghosts of the Past Devour the Future (and Technologies Help Them)]. In Digger [website]. URL: (accessed: 12.05.2021).

Kuvaldin, S. (2018). Sud’ba cheloveka. O dokumental’nom romane Nikolaya V. Kononova “Vosstanie” [The Fate of a Man. On Nikolai V. Kononov’s Documentary Novel]. In Snob [website]. Dec. 10. URL: (accessed: 31.05.2021).

Lebedev, S. (2011). Puteshestvie za krai pamyati [Journey over the Edge of Memory]. In Pervoe sentyabrya [website]. No. 21. URL: (accessed: 31.05.2021).

Lebedev, S. (2016). Lyudi avgusta [People of August]. Moscow, Intellektual’naya literatura. 272 p.

Lebedev, S. (2018). Gus’ Frits [The Children of Kronos]. Moscow, Vremya. 384 p.

Lipman, M. (2020). Kollektivnoe raskayanie? Kogo i pered kem? [Collective Remorse. Whose and to Whom?]. In [website]. Jan. 16. URL: (accessed: 12.05.2021).

Makhotina, E. (2018). Narrativy muzealizatsii, politika vospominanii, pamyat’ kak shou. Novye napravleniya memory studies v Germanii [Narratives of Musealisation, the Politics of Memory, Memory as a Show. New Directions of Memory Studies in Germany]. In Miller, A., Efremenko, D. (Eds.). Metodologicheskie voprosy izucheniya politiki pamyati. Moscow, St Petersburg, Nestor-Istoriya, pp. 75–92.

Malinova, O. (2016). Ofitsial’nyi istoricheskii narrativ kak element politiki identichnosti v Rossii: ot 1990-kh k 2010-m godam [The Official Historical Narrative as an Element of Identity Politics in Russia: From the 1990s to the 2010s]. In Politicheskie issledovaniya. No. 6, pp. 139–158. DOI 10.17976/jpps/2016.06.10.

O’Donoghue, S. (2018). Postmemory as Trauma? Some Theoretical Problems and Their Consequences for Contemporary Literary Criticism. In [website]. URL: (accessed: 31.05.2021).

Pilipchuk, I. (2015). Stalin sazhal lyudei tolpami, a Putinu dostatochno posadit’ odnogo [Stalin Used to Imprison a Great Bulk of People while Putin Only Needs to Imprison One]. In Die Welt [website]. Oct. 31. URL: (accessed: 19.05.2021).

Platt, K. M. F. (2019). “Dom na naberezhnoi” Yu. V. Trifonova i pozdnesovetskaya pamyat’ o stalinskom politicheskom nasilii: dezavuirovanie i sotsial’naya distsiplina [Yuri Trifonov’s The House on the Embankment and the Late Soviet Memory of Stalinist Violence: Disavowal and Social Discipline]. In Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie. Vol. 155 (1), pp. 229–245.

Platt, K. M. F. (2016). Secret Speech: Wounding, Disavowal, and Social Belonging in the USSR. In Critical Inquiry. Vol. 42, pp. 647–676.

Politika pamyati v Rossii: “vspomnit’ vse?” Beseda s Ol’goi Malinovoi [The Politics of Memory in Russia: “Total Recall?”. An Interview with Olga Malinova]. (2015). In Gefter [website]. Dec. 2. URL: (accessed: 12.05.2021).

Roginskii, A. (2011). Pamyat’ i svoboda, ili Kak mnogo proshlogo sushchestvuet v Rossii. Vystuplenie v Berline v Renaissance Theater 23 yanvarya 2011 [Memory and Freedom, or How Much of the Past there is in Russia. A Speech at the Renaissance Theatre in Berlin on 23 January 2011]. In 1917–1991 [website]. URL: (accessed: 31.05.2021).

Ryklin, M. (2013). Lager’ i voina. Istoriya pobezhdennykh ot Varlama Shalamova [The Camp and the War. A History of the Defeated from Varlam Shalamov]. In Solov’ev, S. (Ed.). Varlam Shalamov v kontekste mirovoi literatury i sovetskoi istorii. Moscow, Litera, pp. 301–308.

Sabrow, M. (2008). Heroismus und Viktimismus. Überlegungen zum deutschen Opferdiskurs in historischer Perspektive. In Potsdamer Bulletin für Zeithistorische Studien. № 43–44, S. 7–20.

Shalamov, V. T. (2013). Sobranie sochinenii v 6 t. [Collected Works. 6 Vols.]. Vol. 1. Moscow, Knizhnyi klub Knigovek. Vol. 1. 672 p.

Smith, K. E. (1996). Remembering Stalin’s Victims: Popular Memory and the End of the USSR. Ithaca, L., Cornell Univ. Press. 219 p.

Solzhenitsyn, A. I. (2006). Arkhipelag GULAG. Opyt khudozhestvennogo issledovaniya v 3 kn. [The Gulag Archipelago. An Experiment in Literary Investigation. 3 Books]. Yekaterinburg, U-Faktoriya. Book 1 (Part 1–2). 552 p.

Stepanova, M. (2018). Pamyati pamyati [In Memory of Memory]. Moscow, Novoe izdatel’stvo. 408 p.

Syuzhety umolchaniya v Germanii i Rossii, ili Nemetskii uspekh Sergeya Lebedeva [Plots of Silence in Germany and Russia, or Sergey Lebedev’s German Success]. (2013). In Deutsche Welle [website]. Oct. 23. URL: (accessed: 12.05.2021).

Toker, L. (2017). Peresmotr ponyatiya “geroizm” v rasskazakh Shalamova [The Revision of the Concept of Heroism in Shalamov’s Stories]. In Zakon soprotivleniya raspadu. Osobennosti prozy i poezii Varlama Shalamova i ikh vospriyatie v nachale XXI veka. Prague, Moscow, Natsional’naya biblioteka Cheshskoi Respubliki, pp. 69–77.

Troebst, S. (2004). “Kakoi takoi kover?”. Kul’tura pamyati v postkommunisticheskikh obshchestvakh Vostochnoi Evropy [“What Kind of Carpet?”. Post-Communist Cultures of Memory in East Central Europe]. In Ab Imperio. No. 4, pp. 41–78.

Trudnaya pamyat’: stsenarii dlya Rossii [Difficult Memories: Scenarios for Russia]. (2020). In Fond Egora Gaidara [official channel]. June 16. URL: (accessed: 13.05.2021).

“V totalitarnom gosudarstve zhertvy vybirayutsya sluchaino”. Nikolai V. Kononov o “Vosstanii”, skeletakh v shkafu i izuchenii smerti [“In a Totalitarian State, Victims Are Chosen at Random”. Nikolai V. Kononov on The Uprising, Skeletons in the Cupboard, and Death Studies]. (2019). In Bookmate J. [website]. Nov. 5. URL: (accessed: 31.05.2021).

How to Cite
Razuvalova, A. (2021). Victims of Soviet Terror in the Prose of Sergey Lebedev and Nikolay Kononov: The Prism of Postmemory. Quaestio Rossica, 9(4), 1332–1352.
Problema voluminis