The Doomed City, composed in the 1970s by the Soviet science-fiction writers Arkady and Boris Strugatsky was—unlike the brothers’ other works in the same genre—kept secret and unpublished until the late 1980s under Mikhail Gorbachev. Recently released in English translation, the novel tells the story of two protagonists in a mythical “experimental” city, the story of which is a compressed and twisted version of Soviet history. In his review, Marat Grinberg construes this deeply anti-totalitarian work as a commentary on Plato’s Republic, which the Strugatskys read in the manner of the 20th-century philosopher Leo Strauss. Thus it has an “Athens” component, embodied in the character of the idealist-turned-Nazi-collaborator Andrei, and a “Jerusalem” component, embodied in his Jewish counterpart, Izya:
It is through Izya, whom Andrei turned in to the Secret Police for torture in the novel’s second part, that Andrei acquires “understanding.” The brothers [Strugatsky], sons of a Jewish father and a Russian mother, were always fascinated with Jewishness, an interest manifested prominently in their works through characters, tropes, and allegorical constructs. Izya, “with his provocatively Jewish features,” embodies this preoccupation unabashedly, and he represents [the brothers’] philosophy of Jewishness. Transported to the City in 1968—after the Arab-Israeli Six-Day War, which played a crucial role in reawakening Soviet Jewish self-consciousness, and after the Soviet invasion of Prague, which shattered any illusions about the nature of the Moscow regime—Izya joins the “experiment” out of “curiosity.”
He acts as a Jewish Socrates, an eternal skeptic and trickster, never satisfied with any status quo yet fully comfortable with his Jewishness, even proud of it as the source of his wisdom. At the end of the novel, Izya, in whom the previously bigoted Andrei finally recognizes a true sage, develops a theory of the “Great Temple” of culture (also a corollary to Plato). The temple, “the heritage of the minority,” is being built by the select few—writers, artists, thinkers—whether the majority wants it or not; at best, history can provide conditions that do not irreversibly hinder the construction. . . .
Izya recognizes that the temple’s builders are not immune from the impurities of life, yet they are humanity’s only positive sustaining source. Their “minority” status emphasizes the temple’s Jewish underpinnings. Indeed, the novel’s conclusion hinges on the relationship between Jew and Gentile, or more specifically Jew and Russian.