Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

BOOKWORM: Sholokhov For Sale

Controversy has stalked Mikhail Sholokhov's great historical novel And Quiet Flows the Don ("Tikhi Don") since the first volume was published in 1928.

Although this vividly written portrait of the lives of the Don Cossacks before, during and after the Bolshevik Revolution was greeted with acclaim, literary critics immediately began to question how the young author, then barely 23 years old, whose education had been cut short by the Revolution, could have written such a seminal and grandiose book -- a veritable "War and Peace" for the Soviet era. Genrikh Yagoda, the powerful head of the NKVD, was one of the most vociferous doubters.

During the 1930s three further volumes of the Don series were published, but Sholokhov never wrote anything else of comparable merit. In 1965 he was awarded a Nobel Prize for literature, yet the rumors about the true authorship of his masterpiece did not stop. Indeed they gathered in intensity and acquired powerful champions such as Alexander Solzhenitsyn and the historian Roy Medvedev.

These critics argued that the most likely real author of "And Quiet Flows the Don" was Fyodor Kryukov, an officer in the imperial Russian army and a member of the first State Duma of 1906, whose manuscripts are believed to have perished with him during the Civil War .

The debate might have continued indefinitely had not the original manuscript of "And Quiet Flows the Don" recently appeared on the market in Moscow. This news, accompanied by the information that the manuscript was being sold by the page in the West, was broken last week by the leading Russian daily Izvestia.

Izvestia quoted Felix Kuznetsov, the director of the Institute of World Literature at the Russian Academy of Sciences, as saying he knew that the manuscript was in Sholokhov's handwriting.

"By any standards, manuscripts such as these are national property," the academician said. "Some time ago I asked the Russian Minister of Culture for financial assistance in buying the archive. But the price ..." He did not finish his sentence, but added, "we are [still] ready to negotiate with the manuscript owners on acceptable terms."

Izvestia suggests that the asking price for these 900 pages of spidery, closely-written, much corrected text is too high even for Western collectors, which explains why the owners have been reduced to selling it by the page.

Yury Budin, the Booker-nominated author who wrote the Izvestia piece, argues the book now has a significance and meaning beyond all these questions about authorship and ownership. "Tikhi Don is now a fact, as unchanging for world culture as The Iliad or Macbeth and that is why we must agree that the author of Tikhi Don is Tikhi Don itself. The name is no longer a name, but literature itself. "

And now you can buy your own page or two of great literature, whoever it is by. And purchasers living in Moscow can expect to get a discount.