Memories of Vanished Others: Yury Buida as a Central European Writer

Uilleam Blacker (Cambridge)

Among the main preoccupations of Yury Buida’s prose is the German past of his native Kaliningrad region. Kaliningrad has been Russian only for a few decades, a period which pales in comparison to its long German/Prussian past. The ghosts of this past emerge repeatedly in Buida’s prose, reminding the inhabitants of Kaliningrad (or the author’s own hometown of Znamensk, in the same region) that they live among the ruins of a culture that suddenly and violently vanished from this part of Europe. In Prusskaya nevesta (translated into English as The Prussian Bride) and other stories, Buida presents the memory of the region’s lost German culture with a mixture of the melancholy and the grotesque, re-inscribing the lost culture in space, seeking its traces, yet never being able to reconstruct the shattered whole. The specific intersection between place and memory, in which the primary figure is the lost other, makes Buida’s work remarkably reminiscent of the work of many writers from Central Europe, particularly Poland. For these writers, the experience of inhabiting places that were once home to other cultures, and in which the reminders of these cultures and the violent past that led to their disappearance are all around, is a major preoccupation. The memory of Jews and Germans who vanished from Polish cities and towns continues to haunt and disturb Poles, and the ghosts of these others populate many contemporary Polish novels. The paper will argue that Buida’s work represents a Russian voice participating in the processes of recovering the memory of those other cultures that vanished from the map of East-Central Europe as a result of the Second World War. The events that led to the population shifts and losses of the mid-twentieth century in East-Central Europe also involved the participation of Russia and Russians, yet few Russian writers have tackled the topic. The paper argues that Buida represents an important voice in Russian literature in this regard, and, through comparison with Polish writers, demonstrates that his work represents a fascinating intersection with the literature of Poland and other East-Central European countries.

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