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Sobol’, Andrei

(1888–1926), poet, essayist, and short-story writer. Born into an impoverished Jewish family in Saratov, Andrei Sobol’ (Iulii Mikhailovich [Izrail’ Moiseevich]; early pseudonym Andrei Nezhdanov) left for Vilna in 1904. He was arrested for participating in an illegal Zionist group, and consequently spent four years in Siberia in forced labor. His first poem was published in 1904, followed by the short stories “Broshenny” (Rejected; 1905) and “Machekha Rudi” (The Stepmother Rudi; 1906).

In 1908, Sobol’ escaped from Siberia and left for Switzerland, France, and Italy. Returning to Russia illegally at the end of 1914, he went to the Caucasus as a war correspondent; in 1917 becoming a commissar of the provisional government’s Twelfth Army. After the October Revolution, he took an anti-Bolshevik position and was imprisoned in Odessa from 1920 to 1921. In 1923, however, he published a letter in Pravda recognizing the Soviet regime. In the 1920s, he served as secretary of the board of the All-Russian Writers Union. After several attempts at suicide, Sobol’ shot himself on Tverskoi Boulevard in the center of Moscow on 7 June 1926.

Sobol’ knew Yiddish from his childhood and translated, among other works, Sholem Aleichem’s novel Blonzhende shtern (Wandering Stars; 1912). He was closely connected to several Jewish public figures, including Dr. Avram Kaufman (later head of the Jewish community of Kharbin), who wrote a memoir about him; the Russian Zionist writer Leib Jaffe (Leyb Yaffe); the Russian revolutionary activist and a founder of Israeli industry Pinkhas Rutenberg (letters from Sobol’ to the latter two after they left for Palestine have been preserved); and the translator and cultural historian Abram Efros, to whom Sobol’ dedicated his unpublished 1926 story “Pechal’nyi vesel’chak” (The Sad Jovial Fellow). He often revealed an attachment to the Jewish national world, as in his “Otkrytoe pis’mo” (Open Letter; 1915) to Dmitrii Merezhkovskii after Merezhkovskii had written an article, “Evreiskii vopros kak russkii” (The Jewish Question as the Russian One; 1915). Sobol’ was a member of the Moscow publishing firm Evreiskii mir and edited its literary anthology. His story “Vstan’ i idi” (Rise and Go) was published in the collection Safrut (1918).

Sobol’ wrote Zionist poetry in his youth. From 1910 to 1920, he published in the Russian-language Jewish press of both Moscow and Petrograd. His essays touched on Zionist topics, and his sketch “Son tysiacheletii” (A Dream of Millennia) appeared in the one-time Zionist newspaper Evreistvo i Palestina (19–26 May 1918). He wrote about the Jewish theater and came out sharply against the antisemitism gripping Russia, writing newspaper sketches during the revolutionary period.

The artistic world of Sobol’ is densely populated with Jews, often idealists, ne’er-do-wells, or weak people with tortured fates, physical defects, or sick psyches (“Moi sumashedshie” [My Crazies; 1913], “Chelovek s prozvishchami” [The Man with Nicknames; 1913], “Mendel’-Ivan” [1914]). During the Civil War, Sobol’ spoke out in defense of Jews, who had been turned into scapegoats, blamed for the revolution and the country’s collapse (“Sovremennoe slovo” [Modern Word], 16 November, 1919); he also depicted pogroms during the Civil War in the stories “Kogda tsvetet vishnia” (When the Cherry Tree Blossoms; 1923) and “Schet” (The Count; 1924). At the same time, Sobol’s work shows a certain scorn for Jews who could believe they could protect themselves only through tears and prayers. An antithesis to Jewish weakness appears in his presentation of a family of Siberian Jewish heroes (“Tikhoe techenie” [Silent Current; 1918]) or in the love of a Jewish girl for a Bundist revolutionary in “Pesn’ Pesnei” (Song of Songs [1915]; in the Soviet period the story was reworked as “O liubvi i starosti” [About Love and Old Age; 1926] and the Jewish and biblical references were eliminated). Also Jewish in subject matter are his depictions of a writer’s conformity and double dealing (“Rasskazy v pis’makh” [Stories in Letters; 1916]), and his exploration of the Jewish theater (the play Pereryv [Intermission; 1923]), and the world of the Jewish bourgeoisie (the play Sirocco; 1925).

Jewish characters in other works embody important aspects of social problems: a raped zhidovka (derogatory for “Jewess”) who ends her life in suicide (the story “Rostom ne vyshel” [The Runt; 1914]); a Jewish student who marries a Russian revolutionary to gain the right to remain in Moscow (the novella Liudi prokhozhie [Passersby; 1915–1916]); a Jew who could not withstand the inhuman conditions of forced labor and therefore cuts his throat (the play Davai uletim [Let’s Fly Away; 1925]). In the novel Pyl’ (Dust; 1915), Sobol’ shows how antisemitism penetrated into a circle of revolutionaries, who prided themselves on their elevated moral ideals. The world of political emigration is portrayed in the story “Nam nuzhny” (We Need; 1915). In the Soviet period, Sobol’ edited and introduced a collection of Sholem Aleichem’s short stories, Skvoz’ slezy (Through Tears; 1925). In the early 1920s, he worked on a novel, “Iudei” (Judeans), about pogroms during the Civil War; however, the manuscript has not been found. Russian critics who were contemporaries of Sobol’ noted a sharp polarization in the author’s attitude toward his heroes in connection with their national affiliation: the invariably positive attitude toward Jewish characters that borders on an “idealization of his tribe” (V. Iu. B. [N. N. Venttsel’], Novoe vremia, 28 November 1915), but Jewish critics reproached him for depicting the Jewish world through Russian eyes (Bal-Makhshoves, Evreiskaia zhizn’ [1916], no. 5).

Suggested Reading

Diana Gantseva, “Andrei Sobol’: Tvorcheskaia biografiia” (Ph.D. diss., Ekaterinburg University, 2002); Vladimir Khazan, “Evreiskii mir Andreia Sobolia v zerkale russkoi revoliutsii: Materialy k biografii pisatelia,” in Mirovoi krizis 1914–1920 godov i sud’ba vostochnoevropeiskogo evreistva, ed. Oleg Vital’evich Budnitskogo, pp. 342–368 (Moscow, 2005); Naphtali Prat, “Andrei Sobol’ i problema russko-evreiskoi literatury,” in Mezhdu Vostokom i Zapadom: Evrei v russkoi i evropeiskoi kul’ture, ed. Irina Belobrovtseva, Sergei Dotsenko, and Vladimir Khazan, pp. 166–180 (Tallinn, Est., 2000); Zelik Iakovlevich Shteinman, Chelovek iz panoptikuma (Leningrad, 1927).