Oz behind the Iron Curtain
Aleksandr Volkov and His Magic Land Series
The first English-language study of Aleksandr Volkov and his Magic Land series
Recipient of the 2018 Outstanding Faculty Research Achievement Award in the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics at Syracuse University
In 1939, Aleksandr Volkov (1891-1977) published Wizard of the Emerald City, a revised version of L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Only a line on the copyright page explained the book as a "reworking" of the American story. Readers credited Volkov as author rather than translator. Volkov, an unknown and inexperienced author before World War II, tried to break into the politically charged field of Soviet children's literature with an American fairy tale. During the height of Stalin's purges, Volkov adapted and published this fairy tale in the Soviet Union despite enormous, sometimes deadly, obstacles.
Marketed as Volkov's original work, Wizard of the Emerald City spawned a series that was translated into more than a dozen languages and became a staple of Soviet popular culture, not unlike Baum's fourteen-volume Oz series in the United States. Volkov's books inspired a television series, plays, films, musicals, animated cartoons, and a museum. Today, children's authors and fans continue to add volumes to the Magic Land series. Several generations of Soviet Russian and Eastern European children grew up with Volkov's writings, yet know little about the author and even less about his American source, L. Frank Baum. Most Americans have never heard of Volkov and know nothing of his impact in the Soviet Union, and those who do know of him regard his efforts as plagiarism.
Erika Haber demonstrates how the works of both Baum and Volkov evolved from being popular children's literature and became compelling and enduring cultural icons in both the US and USSR/Russia, despite being dismissed and ignored by critics, scholars, and librarians for many years.
"Oz behind the Iron Curtain is an important piece of scholarship, blazing a trail for other scholars to follow the transmission of children’s classics into other cultures and nations around the world. . . . Haber’s book is wonderfully written and will entertain and inform readers looking to learn more about the world of children’s literature. "- Sean Ferrier-Watson, Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts, Vol. 30, No. 1
"Haber demonstrates that the two magical worlds deserve the attention of both child and adult readers. The research directions she pursues in Oz behind the Iron Curtain: Aleksandr Volkov and His Magic Land Series highlight the complexity of the Soviet adaptation of the American fantasy literature classic as something much more than a creation of a reality with which the Soviet reader could identify. Haber’s monograph is, therefore, an essential contribution to research on children’s literature worldwide. "- Sylwia Kamińska-Maciąg, International Research in Children's Literature
"This book provides a deeply engaging and informative study of the little-known Soviet author Aleksandr Volkov, whose translation of L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in the midst of the Great Terror was marketed as his own original work under the title Wizard of the Emerald City. Haber explores the peculiar circumstances surrounding the publication and history of this book in the context of Cold War propaganda and explains the reasons how and why it became one of the most popular and beloved books of Soviet and post-Soviet children. She provides new insights into our knowledge of the interplay of children's literature and cultural politics in the Soviet Union. "- Larissa Rudova, Yale B. and Lucille D. Griffith Professor of Modern Languages and professor of German and Russian at Pomona College
"Erika Haber's book Oz behind the Iron Curtain brings together American and Russian children's literature and, particularly, two famous authors, L. Frank Baum and Aleksandr Volkov. Both of them were loved by many in their countries. The book suggests an original and compelling interpretation of sources previously unknown to English-speaking readers. It provides not only substantive scholarship but also entertaining reading. The parallel stories of Baum and Volkov against the backdrop of American and Soviet history will be interesting to a broad range of scholars. "- Olga Bukhina, translator, children's literature specialist, and author of many works, including The Ugly Duckling, Harry Potter, and Others: A Guide to Children's Books About Orphans