Interpreting the ‘Thaw’ from the ‘Third World’: The Guyanese Writer Jan Carew on Modernization and Trauma in the Early 1960s Soviet Union




This paper analyzes how Guyanese writer Jan Carew explored the results of Soviet modernization and the trauma caused by Stalinist terror and the Gulag through the eyes of exchange students from the “Global South” in the early 1960s. His writings dismiss the USSR’s development as a model for newly emerging post-colonial states and depict racist attitudes in Soviet society. Thus, Carew defied Soviet propaganda conveyed through intensified cultural diplomacy towards “Third World” intellectuals, which brought authors such as Carew and exchange students to the USSR since the mid-1950s. However, I argue that the issues Carew addresses and the aesthetic tools he uses mirror Soviet “Thaw” literature of the time, which intended to revive communist utopianism. The Guyanese’s writings are therefore also an example of successful cultural diplomacy of the USSR, which is largely overlooked. The paper illuminates this by focusing on Carew’s portrayal of Russian peasants and the USSR’s peripheries on the one hand and Soviet society’s inability to cope with its traumatic past on the other. It highlights some commonalities to two central novels by Ilya Ehrenburg and Vladimir Dudintsev. The paper contributes to a new history of the “Cold War”, illustrating how permeable the “Iron Curtain” could be. While most studies in this field focus on how global cultural influences shaped Soviet society, few explore reverse effects.

Author Biography

Hannes Schweikardt, University of Cologne

Hannes Schweikardt is currently studying in the M.A. History program at the University of Cologne. He received a B.A. in Political Science and History from Eberhard Karls University Tübingen. He visited Uppsala University, Sweden in 2011 as ERASMUS exchange student. His research interest includes contemporary history, the history of the Soviet Union and the GDR as well as global and environmental history. He works as student assistant for the University of Cologne and the German Commission for UNESCO.