Author: Mikhail Epstein
Publisher: Paul Dry Books Incorporated
Inside the disintegrating Soviet Union, Raisa Gibaydulina, a professor of scientific atheism at the Moscow Institute of Atheism, compiles a selection of articles, sermons, manifestos, and other writings by members of banned religious sects. Copies of this classified reference manual, The New Sectarianism, are smuggled to the West, where intellectuals attempt to assess the late-Soviet spiritual movements. A record of Gibaydulina's own spiritual quest is preserved in the notes and letters she writes during the post-Soviet years before her death in April 1997. Such is the form of Mikhail Epstein's fictional Cries in the New Wilderness, first published in Moscow during the last years of the Soviet Union and now available in English, in an expanded version. Drawing on his own participation in Moscow's intellectual associations and in expeditions to study popular religious beliefs in southern Russia and Ukraine, Epstein recreates the spiritual experience of an entire Russian generation. His is not a documentary book, however, but a "comedy of ideas," in which he constructs from the voices he hears in the culture around him the bizarre religious and philosophical worldviews of Foodniks and Domesticans, Arkists and Bloodbrothers, Sinnerists and Good-believers, Steppies and Pushkinians. As a counterpoint to this medley of comic, grotesque, poetic, banal, poignant, and harrowing voices is the voice of the commentator, Professor Gibaydulina, who struggles to maintain her scientific atheism in the face of this startling variety of religious experiences. Gibaydulina's response to the crumbling of the Soviet Union and her quest for a new, creative atheism adds a tragic note to Epstein's polyphonic work.