Portraits of Irkutsk


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Valentin Rasputin was born on March 15, 1937, in the village Ust-Uda in the Irkutsk Oblast. Shortly thereafter, his family moved north along the Angara river to the village Atalanka. In 1954, he finished school and enrolled at Irkutsk State University in the history-philology department. While a student, he worked for the newspaper Soviet Youth, and later, after moving to Krasnoyarsk in 1962, he worked for The Krasnoyarsk Worker. Rasputin’s first story was printed in 1961, and his first book, The Edge Near the Sky, was published in 1966. Throughout the 1970s, some of his most famous works were published, including French Lessons (1973), Live and Remember (1974), and Farewell to Matyora (1976). The lattermost became one of the most prominent works of the village prose movement.

Village prose (derevenskaya proza) revolved around the preservation of village life and traditions, stressing the necessity of a return to nature and rural life. Many of Rasputin’s works were written in this style, and aimed to call attention to the issues caused by industrialization. Village prose began surfacing in the 1950s and lasted until the late ‘70s, with Farewell to Matyora being considered by some to be the symbolic end of this literary movement.

Farewell to Matyora

Matyora, a fictional island village located on the Angara River, will soon be flooded due to the construction of a hydroelectric power station. The residents of Matyora are told that they must leave before the water rises; however, many of the older residents do not want to leave, owing to their deep attachment to their village.

One of the major themes in Farewell to Matyora is the disconnect between rural life and urban life. The schism between new and old is especially clear in the attitudes of the three characters, Darya, Pavel, and Andrei. Darya, the main character, is an elderly grandmother who serves indirectly as the leader of the village. Her family has lived on the island Matyora for decades, and she cannot bring herself to leave. Her son, Pavel, is a middle-aged worker who understands the fate of Matyora, but still feels a deep connection to the place where he was born. Lastly, Andrei, Pavel’s son, is young, and committed to the march of progress. He speaks optimistically about the future and wants to work on the construction of the station that will eventually flood Matyora. While he does feel a connection to Matyora, it is not to the same degree as Darya and Andrei, and he does not seem to understand why the older generation cannot simply leave Matyora behind.

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