Valery Tarsis

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Valery Yakovlevich Tarsis
Valery Tarsis.jpg
Born 23 September [O.S. 10 September] 1906
Kiev, Ukraine
Died 4 March 1983(1983-03-04) (aged 76)
Bern, Switzerland
Occupation Writer
Nationality Russian
Citizenship  Soviet Union

Valery Yakovlevich Tarsis (Russian: Вале́рий Я́ковлевич Та́рсис; 23 September [O.S. 10 September] 1906 – 4 March 1983) was a Russian writer, literary critic, and translator.[1] He was highly critical of the communist regime.


Valery was born in Kiev, went to school there and then to Rostov-on-Don University.

In the twenties he published some short stories but his main focus was on translations of Western writers into Russian. He translated over thirty books while working for a publishing house (until 1937) as a specialist in Western literature.

During World War II Tarsis was twice severely wounded.

Once a writer and editor in good official standing, Tarsis grew disillusioned with Communism in the 1950s. The publication abroad of his scathing 1962 novel The Bluebottle earned him an eight-month stay in a Soviet mental hospital,[2] 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..."[3]

Tarsis' fictionalised documentary Ward No. 7 was one of the first literary works to deal with political abuse of psychiatry in the Soviet Union.[4]: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.[5]: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.[4]: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.[4]: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.[4]:208 Tarsis denounces Soviet psychiatry as pseudo-science and charlatanism.[4]: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.[6]

In 1966, Tarsis was permitted to emigrate to the West, and was soon deprived of his Soviet citizenship.[5]:140 He settled in Bern, Switzerland where he died after a heart attack on 4 March 1983 at the age of 76.[7]


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


  1. ^ Perrucci, Robert; Pilisuk, Marc (1968). The triple revolution: social problems in depth. Little, Brown. p. 325. 
  2. ^ 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. 
  3. ^ Tarsis, Valeriy (Trans. Katya Brown, 1965) (1963). Ward 7: An Autobiographical Novel. London & Glasgow: Collins and Harvill Press. 
  4. ^ a b c d e Marsh, Rosalind (1986). Soviet fiction since Stalin: science, politics and literature. Taylor & Francis. p. 208. ISBN 0-7099-1776-7. 
  5. ^ a b van Voren, Robert (2010). Cold War in Psychiatry: Human Factors, Secret Actors. Amsterdam—New York: Rodopi. ISBN 90-420-3046-1. 
  6. ^ Szasz, Thomas (4 March 1978). "Psychiatry and dissent". The Spectator 240 (7809): 12–13. PMID 11665013. 
  7. ^ "Valery Tarsis Is Dead - Soviet Emigre Novelist - Obituary -". The New York Times. 4 March 1983. Retrieved 2011-01-06.