Valery Tarsis

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Valery Yakovlevich Tarsis
File:Valery Tarsis.jpg
Native name Валерий Яковлевич Тарсис
Born 23 September [O.S. 10 September] 1906
Kiev, Ukraine
Died 3 March 1983(1983-03-03) (aged 76)
Bern, Switzerland
Occupation specialist in Western literature, translator, writer
Nationality Russian
Citizenship  Soviet Union
Alma mater Rostov-on-Don State University

Valery Yakovlevich Tarsis (Russian: Вале́рий Я́ковлевич Та́рсис; 23 September [O.S. 10 September] 1906, Kiev – 3 March 1983, Bern) was a Russian writer, literary critic, and translator.[1] He was highly critical of the communist regime.


Valery was born in Kiev in 1906 and graduated from the Rostov-on-Don State University in 1929.[2]:65

He translated thirty four books into Russian.[3]:193

During World War II Tarsis was twice severely wounded.

As a young man Tarsis joined the Communist Party of the Soviet Union but became disillusioned in the 1930s and finally broke with the party in 1960.[2]:65 In 1966, he said his key purpose in writing "is to struggle against Communism."[4] He smuggled his compositions out of Russia so that they could escape Soviet censorship.[5]

The publication abroad of his scathing 1962 novel The Bluebottle earned him an eight-month stay in a Soviet mental hospital,[6] an experience he described in his autobiographical novel Ward 7: "All around him were faces exposed by sleep or distorted by nightmares ... it is always hard to be the only one awake, and it is almost unbearable to stand the third watch of the world in a madhouse..."[7]

Tarsis' Ward No. 7 is a personal account of the use of psychiatry to stifle dissidence.[8] The book was one of the first literary works to deal with political abuse of psychiatry in the Soviet Union.[9]:208 Tarsis based the book upon his own experiences in 1963–1964 when he was detained in the Moscow Kashchenko psychiatric hospital for political reasons.[10]:140 In a parallel with the story Ward No. 6 by Anton Chekhov, Tarsis implies that it is the doctors who are mad, whereas the patients are completely sane, although unsuited to a life of slavery.[9]:208 In ward No. 7 individuals are not cured, but persistently maimed; the hospital is a jail and the doctors are gaolers and police spies.[9]:208 Most doctors know nothing about psychiatry, but make diagnoses arbitrarily and give all patients the same medication — the anti-psychotic drug aminozin or an algogenic injection.[9]:208 Tarsis denounces Soviet psychiatry as pseudo-science and charlatanism.[9]:208

Among all the victims of Soviet psychiatry, Tarsis was the sole exception in the sense that he did not emphasised the 'injustice' of confining 'sane dissidents' to psychiatric hospitals and did not thereby imply that the psychiatric confinement of 'insane patients' was proper and just.[11]

In 1966, Tarsis was permitted to emigrate to the West, and was soon deprived of his Soviet citizenship.[10]:140 He lectured at the Leicester University[12] and Gettysburg College.[4][13] In his words, he had invitations to lecture at the Sorbonne and at universities of Geneva, Oslo and Naples.[14] The KGB had plans to compromise the literary career of Tarsis abroad through labelling him as a mentally ill person.[15]:279 As the 1966 memorandum to the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union reported, "KGB continues arrangements for further compromising Tarsis abroad as a mentally ill person."[16][17] He settled in Bern, Switzerland where he died after a heart attack on 3 March 1983 at the age of 76.[18]


  • The Bluebottle (1962)
  • Ward 7 (1965)
  • The Pleasure Factory (1967)
  • The Gay life (1968)

Further reading


  1. Perrucci, Robert; Pilisuk, Marc (1968). The triple revolution: social problems in depth. Little, Brown. p. 325.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 Bloch, Sidney; Reddaway, Peter (1977). Russia's political hospitals: The abuse of psychiatry in the Soviet Union. Victor Gollancz Ltd. p. 65. ISBN 0-575-02318-X.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Artyomova, A.; Slavinsky, M.; Rar, L. [А. Артёмова, М. Славинский, Л. Рар] (1971). Казнимые сумасшествием: Сборник документальных материалов о психиатрических преследованиях инакомыслящих в СССР (PDF) (in Russian). Frankfurt am Main: Посев [Seeding]. p. 193. Unknown parameter |trans_title= ignored (help)CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 "Students to hear Russian on Wednesday". The Gettysburg Times. 3 October 1966.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "Alive now, says Russian novelist". The Tuscaloosa News. 10 May 1966.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Szasz, Thomas (February 1991). Ideology and insanity: essays on the psychiatric dehumanization of man. Syracuse University Press. p. 30. ISBN 978-0-8156-0256-9. Retrieved 6 January 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Tarsis, Valeriy (Trans. Katya Brown, 1965) (1963). Ward 7: An Autobiographical Novel. London & Glasgow: Collins and Harvill Press.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Belkin, Gary (Autumn 1999). "Writing about their science: American interest in Soviet psychiatry during the post-Stalin Cold War". Perspectives in Biology and Medicine. 43 (1): 31–46. doi:10.1353/pbm.1999.0041. PMID 10701220.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 Marsh, Rosalind (1986). Soviet fiction since Stalin: science, politics and literature. Croom Helm. p. 208. ISBN 0-7099-1776-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. 10.0 10.1 Voren, Robert van (2010). Cold War in psychiatry: human factors, secret actors. Amsterdam—New York: Rodopi. p. 140. ISBN 90-420-3046-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Szasz, Thomas (4 March 1978). "Psychiatry and dissent". The Spectator. 240 (7809): 12–13. PMID 11665013. Archived from the original on February 23, 2014. Unknown parameter |deadurl= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. "Tarsis amenable to Canadian visit". The Montreal Gazette. 11 February 1966.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. "Soviet critic draws crowd". The Gettysburg Times. 6 October 1966.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. "Outspoken anti-red critic issued passport by Soviet". Toledo Blade. 7 February 1966.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Pietikäinen, Petteri (2015). Madness: A History. Routledge. p. 279. ISBN 1317484444.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. "Смотрели за каждым… "Палата № 7"". Вопросы литературы [Questions of Literature] (in Russian) (2). 1996. Unknown parameter |trans_title= ignored (help)CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. "О мерах в связи с антисоветскими материалами в английской печати (Тарсиса): Решение Президиума ЦК КПСС № 238/132 от 8 апреля 1966 по записке Николая Степановича Захарова и Романа Андреевича Руденко от 14 февраля 1966 и записке Андрея Андреевича Громыко от 5 апреля 1966" (in Russian). Soviet Archives, collected by Vladimir Bukovsky. 8 April 1966. Unknown parameter |trans_title= ignored (help); External link in |title=, |publisher= (help); Missing or empty |url= (help)CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. "Valery Tarsis is dead; Soviet emigre novelist". The New York Times. 4 March 1983.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>