Images of Nusantara in Russian Literature

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Ever since its first appearance in Russian literature in the 11th century, Nusantara, then a legendary country somewhere in the isles ‘beyond India’, next to Paradise, has continually stirred the imagination of Russian men of letters. Early Russian writers saw it as a fabulous land allegedly visited by Alexander the Great and saintly pilgrims, and the home of pious Rahmans, monsters and allegorical animals—a land that knew no injustice and which thus provided an ideal setting for social utopias. Russian classics like Pushkin, Goncharov, and Turgenev, and especially the writers of the Silver Age (Bryusov, Balmont, and Bunin), created a different image of Nusantara: Nusantara the exotic, a land of refined aromas and deadly poisons, of tropical flowers and ancient temples, which comprised a constellation of irresistibly attractive far-off islands offering an imaginary refuge from the humdrum of the real world. In the works of the Soviet poets (Gorodetsky, Tikhonov, and Simonov), finally, Nusantara the exotic was supplanted by Nusantara the ideological arena—the region of working masses suffering under the yoke of colonialism and of communists fighting for a brighter future. The first section of this book—intended for both Southeast Asianists and Slavic scholars—offers a survey of Russian images of Nusantara from their genesis and sources (old Byzantine and modern Western) through their nine-century evolution. The second section contains a comprehensive selection of excerpts from literary works (in both English translation and the Russian original) in which these images are elaborated. The third section supplements the other two with a variety of rare materials relating to the topic of the book as well as with traditional Malay writings about Russia.

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