The Problem Novel in Russia?

By Kelly Herold

The problem novel–stories with a “problem” (poverty, racism, gang warfare, sexual identity) at their core–is central to “Western” children’s and Young Adult literary traditions.  From The Catcher in the Rye and Seventeenth Summer to The Chocolate WarThe Outsiders, and Speak, children in the West have read stories in which children and teens confront issues and problems similar to or different from those in their own lives.  Sometimes these problems are “solved” (much more likely in the American tradition) and sometimes they are not (Britain, Scandinavia, Germany), but the problem novel remains the center of Western children’s and especially Young Adult literature.

But not in Russia.  And publisher Julia Zagachin (Rozovyi Zhiraf publishing house)* discusses why she is now publishing translations of Western problem novels as part of a long discussion at   The discussion begins with this paragraph:

Юлия Загачин давно рассказывала, что хочет издавать жесткие и правдивые книжки для детей и подростков. О настоящей жизни, которой живут наши дети в школе, в городе и в семье — о дедовщине, о коррумпированных сообществах, о тяжело больных братьях и сестрах. Скорее всего, без «хэппи-энда», но с реальными проблемами.

The discussion that follows is lively and demonstrates some of the opposition to the problem novel in Russia.  One commenter writes, for example, “Хотите отнять у детей последнее – надежду и хэппи энд?…ого вы хотите вырастить? Зачерствевшие души без веры и надежды, которые не будут плакать над птичкой, потом над кошкой а потом над человеком?”

It’s a fascinating discussion about the role of books for children and young adults, so I hope you’ll head on over and read it all.
*I do find it ethically unusual that a major magazine would “print” a statement from a publisher who is discussing soon-to-be published books.  What Zagachin writes and the discussion that ensues, however, is pertinent and very interesting.