Throughout the novel, STDs are mentioned. I believe this is the first time that STDs are mentioned so strongly in any novel that we have read so far. Like on page 4, a woman from the Film Institute is said to have gonorrhea. Petrushevskaya writes, “…she’d got a summons on the post from the VD clinic, saying she’d missed one of her regular injections for gonorrhea…” (Petrushevskaya 4). I was curious why all of a sudden we see the emergence of STDs. Anna also shares a fear that her daughter will contract an STD.
I found a paper by Julie Stachowiak entitled Russia and the Former Soviet Union in which she discusses the outbreak of STDs soon after the fall of the Soviet Union, around the same time period as this novel.1 She claims that many diseases, not only STDs, such as “diphtheria, cholera, and hepatitis B” reached epidemic proportions because “the collapse brought further damage to an already inadequate public health system”. Regarding STDs, there was an increase of STDs between 200 and 500 percent in syphilis and chlamydia. This increase was also paired with an increase in prostitution due to the decrease in local currency and foreign business people began arriving.
Interestingly, the Soviet Union believed that they would never have to worry about HIV infections because “homosexual activity and injecting drug use were illegal under Soviet law”. In 1987, discovery of 300 cases of HIV among children infected in medical settings in the cities of Elista, Volograd, Krasnodar, and Rostov-na-Donu brought upon the formation of the Soviet Union’s first national program for AIDs prevention and control. Of the 142 million exams taken from 1991-1998, only 4% of the tests were reported as being voluntary or consensual. The Soviet Union took extreme measures for those individuals that tested positive. Stachowiak writes, “If an individual has a positive test result, post-test counseling is in the form of a document that he or she is required to sign stating: "You are the carrier of a deadly disease and are criminally liable for any contact that would pass that disease to another person."
After reading this article, I better understand why STDs had such an influence on these later 20th century novels.
1Stachowiak, Julie. Russia and the Former Soviet Union. http://www.thebody.com/content/art14037.html