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Tatters in the Iron Curtain

January 10, 1988|Elizabeth Mehren

New York--The most likely recurring publishing news of 1988 will be books behind the Iron Curtain--not just Soviet publishing but publishing in other Eastern Bloc countries as well. The stories may not always be happy ones, but in 1988, there will be many of them.

In the fall, Farrar, Straus & Giroux will publish a book whose German title, in English translation, is simply "Accident." By the East German writer Christa Wolf, it is an account of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster. East Germany, like the rest of the Soviet Bloc, downplayed Chernobyl, and as a result, Wolf's book has acquired something of the status of a dissident book, not least because of its warm reception in West Germany. There, Chernobyl was bigger news than it was in any other country in the world, and "Accident," at only 120 pages, was on the best-seller list for 29 weeks. Last Fall, Wolf won the 20,000 DM ($12,000) Scholl Prize (named for a hero of the anti-Nazi Resistance), which is given by the city of Munich and the Bavarian Publishers Assn. Partly in consequence of this success, Wolf herself, though still little known in the United States, has become one of the most noticed writers in the German-speaking world, one of a very small number who have a major following on both sides of the border. Wolf, who lives in East Berlin, is allowed to travel to West Germany several times a year. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, which has published several of her earlier works, including "A Model of Childhood" and "No Place on Earth," may publish her Chernobyl book under another title than the literal translation "Accident," its publicity director reports.

Another Eastern Bloc book that is being awaited with particular interest is Soviet literary critic Oleg Mikhailov's "River of Time," a discussion of 20th-Century Russian writers that, though published in the Soviet Union, will discuss works by emigres whose poetry and prose only recently has been officially acknowledged.

The book is to include "the 1920s through the 1940s, including creative works by Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977), Yevgeny Zamyatin (1884-1937), Ivan Shmelev (1873-1950) and Boris Zaitsev (1881-1972)," Mikhailov told Soviet news agency Tass some weeks ago, according to a Times wire service report.

Mikhailov said he chose the title because it is the passage of time that helps to "soberly evaluate the works that for one reason or another were created far from the motherland."

Some short works by Nabokov have been published in Soviet journals in the last two years, and Zamyatin's 1929 novel "We," describing an authoritarian society of the future, is to be published next year in the Soviet literary monthly "Znamya."

"The book, which is to be issued by the Moscow publishing house 'Soviet Writer,' is part of a large undertaking by Soviet literary experts to remove the 'blank spots' in the history of our literature," Tass said.

Tass did not indicate whether Mikhailov's book would be issued first in book form or in segments in a literary monthly.

Soviet publishing houses generally issue small printings of novels, while literary magazines have circulations in the millions and are more readily available to readers.

A NOD FROM THE WHITE HOUSE: Although Nicholas Gage was surprised to hear his book "Eleni" referred to by President Reagan following the summit talks with Mikhail Gorbachev, it was not Gage's first encounter with the Oval Office. As a young man just 14 years on American soil, Gage was invited to the White House by John F. Kennedy to receive the Hearst Foundation award for the best writing by a college student in America. That prize enabled Gage to make his first trip back to his native Greece to research the imprisonment and murder of his mother that became the basis for "Eleni." His next book, an as-yet untitled memoir covering the story of Eleni's children growing up in post-war America, will be published by Houghton Mifflin in 1989.

IN MEMORIAM: In honor of James Baldwin and in celebration of black history month in February, Dell will reissue six Baldwin classics, "Go Tell It to the Mountain," "Giovanni's Room," "Another Country," "The Fire Next Time" and "If Beale Street Could Talk," under the Laurel imprint. Of Baldwin, who died Dec. 1 at his home in Southern France, Dell president and publisher Carole Baron said, "his works have profoundly altered America's social and literary consciousness."

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