Edward Engel (nothing to do with Frederick Engels) terms Thomas Mann's great novel The Buddenbrooks "Nothing but two thick tomes in which the author describes the worthless story of worthless people in worthless chatter." I suppose that could be said of any great work of literature that may not please one. To some, Qurratul Ain's Aag ka Darya would be chatter. So would be Soljhenitsyn's Red Wheel, though probably no one would call them worthless. Rather, like Rabelais' Pantagruel, one should go straight to the point. True he had left Paris without bidding farewell to his lady-love. But just now the important thing was to defend his city, which was menaced. So to the "class". The word was taboo in the West during the Cold War, as were "capitalism", "working class" etc. Now that the "red menace" is done for, I imagine they can be used without embarrassment. But the Left always recognised that a ruling class's literature was the most genuine expression of its age. It specially valued the literature of the bourgeoisie, which was the voice of civilisation, as against the barbarism of the pre-capitalist world. Trotsky held that it was the last class literature because, when the bourgeoisie yielded place to the working class, the latter would abolish all classes and therefore the class literature. But then where do we put Gorki, Alexei Tolstoi, Babel, Ehrenburg, Yesenin, Mayakovski? Were not Yesenin and Gorki proletarian writers before the Russian Revolution? What did they become when the proletariat seized power? About others, we are clear. They were bourgeois writers who went over to the proletariat. Actually a turning point came in 1929, with the first Soviet five-year plan. The country was to be industrialised at break-neck speed and all its resources, including the artistic ones, were to be mobilised for the purpose. Writers were to contribute through socialist realism. This resulted in writings on how cabbage was grown in poor soil or about the mixing of cement, though there were some better works also e.g. Ostrovsky's How the Steel Was Tempered, Polevoi's Story of a Real Man or Fadayev's The Last of Udghe. However, none lasted beyond the fifties and today's Russian school-books do not mention them. Now they are also printing some of the works written just before the revolution but refused printing by the Bolsheviks, like Zenkevich's Elga or Biely's Petersburgh, artistically of a high quality but really the cry of anguish of a dying class escaping into fantasy. Anyway the strain on any nation, which threw up giants like Dostoyevsky, Tolstoi, Pushkin, Turgenev, almost all together, was bound to render it barren over the next century or so. (Will Urdu, having given us Iqbal, Josh, Firaq and Faiz within one century, be able to produce another great poet in the near future?) However, the West had no business politicising the literary problems of revolutionary Russia. Award of a Nobel Prize to Bunin was a political act, as was that to Pasternak for Zhivago. He was a good poet but not as good a novelist. The prize to Sholokhov was scandalous. It was to make up for Pasternak's prize, although, even in Soviet times, there were comments about the difference in quality between the Quiet Don and his subsequent novels. All literature is class literature, not in the sense of preaching its ideology but presenting its problems and aspirations, its world-view, as the outlook of the whole nation, of the whole age. The more genuinely it represents its own society, the greater its power of transcending its class and its period. Tolstoi's Natasha was authentically a teenager of the period of Russian autocracy and therefore an authentic teenager for every culture. But Dostoyevski's Anastasia, though a fascinating character, remains essentially Russian. The reader does not really need the critics' help to pick up the best to read. Waris' Heer was criticised severely for being mundane. Who remembers those critics now? But the names like Sehti, Kaidu, Chuchak are familiar to everyone. The writer is a former ambassador