Vladimir Sharov's Rehearsals (1986-88; trans. 2018): panel discussion

Vladimir Sharov's Rehearsals (1986-88; trans. 2018): panel discussion

Monday, 30 April 2018 - 5:00pm to 7:00pm
Nissan Lecture Theatre
Dr Auliiki Nahkola (Wolfson)
Professor Philip Bullock (Wadham)
Dr Oliver Ready (St Antony's) - the novel's translator
Professor Andrei Zorin (New College)
Dr Oliver Ready (St Antony's)
Russian and Eurasian Studies Centre Monday Seminar

Oliver Ready (St Antony's) - 'The Rehearsals from a translator's perspective'; Philip Bullock (Wadham) - 'Beginnings, endings, and eternal returns: Sharov's Rehearsals and the legacy of the Soviet avant-garde'; Aulikki Nahkola (Wolfson) - 'Condemned to rehearse till we resolve? Sharov on the long road to the Eschaton'       Chair: Andrei Zorin (New College)

For further information on The Rehearsals (including an extract from the beginning of the novel) see: http://www.dedalusbooks.com/our-books/book.php?id=00000314

For a TLS review by Dr Jamie Rann, see https://www.the-tls.co.uk/articles/private/russian-fiction-7/  

or below.

NB: Prior knowledge of the novel is not assumed or expected: the first paper will serve to introduce it.


Like a stream that has to be traversed at the beginning of a picturesque mountain walk, the opening of The Rehearsals seems designed to ward off day-tripping dilettantes. The first seventy pages consist of different Soviet professors discoursing on such crowd-pleasers as the nature of Christ’s incarnation and ecumenism in the work of Gogol. This would seem to be one of those Russian novels that your mother warned you about – full of philosophy, God and confusing names. But just as the committed hiker gains access to breathtaking views (and a good workout), so the reader is rewarded with an unforgettable experience. Not because Vladimir Sharov forsakes the intellectual heft of these early pages, but because he finds a more accessible vehicle for his profound thinking in an intriguing premiss.

The story proper begins in the seventeenth century at the New Jerusalem monastery outside Moscow. Nikon, the zealous, reforming patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, built the monastery as a replica of the Holy Land and has now tasked the Breton director Jacques Sertan with staging a play there using a cast of local villagers. The play’s subject is the life of Jesus and its script is the Gospel, but, as Nikon warns, “this cannot be theatre. Everything must be exactly as it once was”. The peasants are not, they believe, rehearsing a performance, but rather conducting a ritual to hasten the return of the one figure they do not dare recreate – Christ.

Nikon is a compelling mixture of piety, ambition and apocalyptic fervour, and at first it seems as if the novel will centre on his contradictory character. But Sharov, a trained historian, is also ambitious, and skilled at painting the bigger picture. So he leaves Nikon behind to follow the peasant-actors and their descendants right up to the twentieth century as, exiled in Siberia, they remain steadfast in their commitment to the play and its role in catalysing the return of the Messiah. This expanded scale, in conjunction with Sharov’s deft handling of allusion and Oliver Ready’s nuanced translation, allows the allegorical significance of the narrative to become apparent. As time passes, the peasants’ ascribed identity as “apostles”, “Jews” or “Romans” becomes their primary allegiance, trapping the community within ­centuries-long cycles of violence and recrimination that mirror the brutal patterns of ­Russian and European history.