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Nikolai Shpanov and the Evolution of the Soviet Spy Thriller


It is a common opinion that Stalinist literature knew no explicitly popular genres, and that, consequently, its whole body can be regarded as popular culture. The case of Nikolai Shpanov is one of the most evident arguments against such an interpretation. From the late Thirties to the early Fifties, Shpanov's works, centered around the fight with fiendish spies, had huge print runs and conspicuous success among the readers; yet, Soviet critics nearly ignored them. The publishing channels were not those of the officially endorsed "classics" of Socialist Realism, but rather what can be regarded as a Soviet equivalent of a separated mass publishing. Shpanov's books are, thus, the living proof of the existence of a Soviet mass literature; an analysis of the author's rich output shows a distinctly discernible evolution, from a playful style, rich with science-fiction elements, derived from the "red Pinkertons" of the Twenties, to seriousness and a tendency to use mass literature as a tool to unveil the evil deeds of Western governments.