The Austian myth about Russia

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Image of Russia in the contemporary Austrian literature: observations

The image of Russia in the contemporary Austrian literature as well as in other European literature is appealing but ambiguous. The Russian world for an Austrian writer of the late 20th – early 21st centuries is not completely “alien”, on the contrary, it is largely perceived as spiritually close, his “own”.

Thus, in the work of an Austrian writer Marion Jerschowa, whose life is closely intertwined with Russia, the vast images of the Russian world loaded with symbols spring up. After visiting Nizhny Novgorod in 1990 M. Jerschowa writes a poem about the Volga portraying it as a caring mother-river aching about the hard life of her children.

Volga trinken:
Den bitteren Nektar
Die Mutter
Die Sorge
Die Sehnsucht
Das Leid…
(The Volga:
The bitter Nectar
The Mother
The Concern
The Longing
The Pain…)

The bitter nectar the Volga gives to Russian people is also the key metaphor in M. Jerschowa’s book Honigland – Bitterland (Sweet land – Bitter land). This is an autobiography built on the perception of V. Vysotsky’s work and through his work the perception of Russia as the world of deepest controversy: this is the world of rigid sociopolitical boundaries and the spiritual art looking for higher meaning which cannot however fit into them. The book creates a comprehensive, deep, and tragic image of a poet living on the edge, who writes vehement poems caused by rage, sorrow, and pain, the poems that are going to stay in people’s minds and souls forever.[1]

The images of Russia that an Austrian journalist Susanne Scholl creates in her book of Russia with and without soul (2009) are ambiguous as well. Scholl notes the Russians tend to promote such stereotypes as “You will not grasp her [Russia] with your mind”, “Believe in her [Russia], if you are able…” and she gives the general idea of Russia “knowing no bounds”. The elements that the Austrian author finds important in the image of Russia are those connected with politics, general poverty, impunity of oligarchs, and various contrasts as well as with contemporary achievements in literature (L. Ulitskaya) and art.

In one of the latest Austrian books about Russia – a crime novel Brennerova (2014) by an Austrian writer Wolf Haas – the Russian world is represented from the most unexpected perspective. The main character is a retired police commissioner Brenner who is going to marry a woman from Nizhny Novgorod that he met online. In Moscow he becomes a victim of a robbery and this woman helps him to return to Austria. In Vienna he learns that his Russian beloved has no intention of getting married: she asks him to help her find her sister, a beautiful Russian girl who was kidnapped back in the day and allegedly sent to a chic brothel in Vienna. The commissioner does everything the best way possible. Thus, similarly to genre requirements in other contemporary crime and spy novels, the British ones, for instance, this book depicts Russia largely as a “test” area and a weaker party: the Russian characters here are weak, beautiful, and intelligent women who need help from strong and experienced Austrian men.[2]

To sum it all up, we can say that the myth about Russia in Austrian literature has its own peculiarities which reflect both general trends of its development in the European literature and features specific particularly to the Austrian perception of the Russian world. In this respect, the example of R.M. Rilke is especially illustrative because of his deep love for such characteristics of the Russian culture as soulfulness, religiousness, and contemplation.

[1] Jerschowa M. Honigland -Bitterland. Ein Roman aus Moskau. Graz Wien Köln: Styria Verlag, 1991. 208 S.

[2] Haas W. Brennerova. Hamburg: Hoffmann und Campe, 2014. 239 p.

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