The Soviet Union through the pages of a children’s journal : the July 2015 Slavonic item of the month


Cover of the Oct. 1947 Murzilka, celebrating the Revolution’s 30th anniversary.  From S950:01.a.122.1

The Russian-language monthly children’s journal Murzilka was launched in 1924 and enjoyed huge popularity throughout the Soviet Union.   In 2014, the publisher TriMag started to produce Arkhiv Murzilki (Archive of Murzilka), and the University Library has recently received the first four books in the set.  Arkhiv Murzilki provides a selected anthology of material from the journal.  While texts are largely reproduced in modern typography, the high level of illustrative matter included is reprinted without changes.  It is a very interesting addition to our Slavonic collections, providing a fascinating and beautiful snapshot of Soviet life as it was portrayed to young children.  Although the readership was juvenile, the journal covered all kinds of areas of Soviet experience, including World War 2 (Murzilka was, amazing, printed throughout the war) and achievements in industry and architecture.  The image below shows the wherewithal for building a paper model of the Palace of the Soviets (never completed in real life), complete with a banner-bearing march at its front.


The build-your-own version of Boris Iofan’s Palace of the Soviets. From S950:01.a.122.1

The compilers of Arkhiv Murzilki, which was published to mark the journal’s 90 anniversary (it remains in print to this day), planned to complete the publication in 3 volumes, with each volume covering a particular span of years.  The first of these covers the first 30 years, 1924-1954, and is called ‘A history of the country through the eyes of a children’s journal’.  It includes an introduction which provides some history of Murzilka.  Initially published as an add-on to the workers’ newspaper Rabochaia gazeta, it eventually came under the auspices of the Communist Party’s youth organisations.

A WW2-era illustration of a air-raid alarm practice.

A WW2-era illustration of an air-raid alarm practice.  From S950:01.a.122.1

Volume 2, called ‘The golden age of Murzilka‘ was published in two parts: book 1 covers 1955-1965, book 2 covers 1966-1974.  The final volume – ‘A friend for all times’ – covers 1975-1984, and of this volume, we have so far received book 1.  This covers the whole decade allocated to the volume, so we will have to wait and see whether more books within the third volume appear in due course – and, indeed, any further volumes.  Our holdings of the title so far (volumes 1-3(1)) stand at S950:01.a.122.1-4 and can be ordered to the West Room.

Although the Library holds some Russian-language children’s literature by major authors such as Samuil Marshak and Kornei Chukovskii, we collect in this area very conservatively.  In terms of Murzilka itself, we own three physical issues.  These are recorded on this shared record and come from the Waddleton collection (1954 no. 8, 1962 no. 6) and the Catherine Cooke collection (1927 no. 3).  Looking at the 1927 copy as an example of a complete issue gives an insight into the kind of material that Arkhiv Murzilki has not preserved.  A very interesting and diverting part of the issue, and one which does not feature in Arkhiv Murzilki, is the correspondence section.  Children write in from across the Soviet Union to talk about their lives or particular events (in this issue, the particular event is the discovery by a reader in Vladivostok of a strange-looking potato).  The correspondence section’s donations subsection is particularly captivating.  Here Murzilka’s editorial team record details of donations made by its readers via the journal.  N. Bratchikov, for example, has sent in 78 kopecks for the blind.  Those benefiting most from the young readers’ generosity, however, are English miners, presumably in the aftermath of the 1926 strike.  One 5-year-old reader from Turkmenistan writes in to say “Mama read to me from Murzilka that children are collecting for the English miners.  I asked her for a pretty box, and I took it around our neighbourhood to ask people to give kopecks for the miners.  I collected 50 kopecks.  Then Mama wanted to buy me chocolate, but I added the money for that to the collection, so here is 1 rouble.  Please send it on.”

As with all children’s journals, the positive picture of life Murzilka paints is often rather too good to be true, but the journal (and therefore Arkhiv Murzilki) provides a very eye-catching and interesting insight into the Soviet Union its youngest citizens saw in their favourite title.

A guide to book publishing

A guide to book publishing. From S950:01.a.122.1

Mel Bach

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