Valery Yakovlevich Tarsis
Valery Tarsis.jpg
Native name
Валерий Яковлевич Тарсис
Born23 September [O.S. 10 September] 1906
Kyiv, Ukraine
Died3 March 1983(1983-03-03) (aged 76)
Bern, Switzerland
  • Specialist in Western literature
  • translator
  • writer
Citizenship Soviet Union
Alma materRostov-on-Don State University

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


Valery was born in Kyiv 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]


Further reading


  1. ^ Perrucci, Robert; Pilisuk, Marc (1968). The triple revolution: social problems in depth. Little, Brown. pp. 325.
  2. ^ a b 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.
  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 [The executed by madness: a collection of documentary materials about psychiatric persecutions of dissenters in the USSR] (PDF) (in Russian). Frankfurt am Main: Посев [Seeding]. p. 193.((cite book)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  4. ^ a b "Students to hear Russian on Wednesday". The Gettysburg Times. 3 October 1966.
  5. ^ "Alive now, says Russian novelist". The Tuscaloosa News. 10 May 1966.
  6. ^ Szasz, Thomas (February 1991). Ideology and insanity: essays on the psychiatric dehumanization of man. Syracuse University Press. pp. 30. ISBN 978-0-8156-0256-9. Retrieved 6 January 2011.
  7. ^ Tarsis, Valeriy (Trans. Katya Brown, 1965) (1963). Ward 7: An Autobiographical Novel. London & Glasgow: Collins and Harvill Press.((cite book)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  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. S2CID 44975416.
  9. ^ a b c d e Marsh, Rosalind (1986). Soviet fiction since Stalin: science, politics and literature. Croom Helm. p. 208. ISBN 0-7099-1776-7.
  10. ^ a b Voren, Robert van (2010). Cold War in psychiatry: human factors, secret actors. Amsterdam—New York: Rodopi. p. 140. ISBN 978-90-420-3046-6.
  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.
  12. ^ "Tarsis amenable to Canadian visit". The Montreal Gazette. 11 February 1966.
  13. ^ "Soviet critic draws crowd". The Gettysburg Times. 6 October 1966.
  14. ^ "Outspoken anti-red critic issued passport by Soviet". Toledo Blade. 7 February 1966.
  15. ^ Pietikäinen, Petteri (2015). Madness: A History. Routledge. p. 279. ISBN 978-1317484448.
  16. ^ "Смотрели за каждым… "Палата № 7"" [They watched anyone… "Ward 7"]. Вопросы литературы [Questions of Literature] (in Russian) (2). 1996.
  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" [On measures in connection with anti-Soviet materials (by Tarsis) in the British press: The resolution by the Presidium of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union No. 238/132 of 8 April 1966 in response to the note by Nikolai Zakharov and Roman Rudenko of 14 February 1966 and in response to the note by Andrei Gromyko of 5 April 1966] (PDF) (in Russian). Soviet Archives, collected by Vladimir Bukovsky. 8 April 1966. ((cite web)): External link in |publisher= (help)
  18. ^ "Valery Tarsis is dead; Soviet emigre novelist". The New York Times. 4 March 1983.