Andrei Sinyavsky Biography

Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Andrei Donatovich Sinyavsky (sihn-YOV-skee) was the godfather of the post-Stalin renaissance in Russian literature. Born on October 8, 1925, into the family of an ineffectual radical idealist, Sinyavsky was reared as a true believer in the Communist system. Although well-educated, his parents held menial white-collar jobs. In his late teens Sinyavsky served in the Soviet army. Demobilized, he entered Moscow University in 1947, where he defended his dissertation on Maxim Gorky, the father of Socialist Realism, in 1952. Two friendships of his student years would have enormous consequences for Sinyavsky: Hélène Pelletier, the daughter of the French naval attaché who was permitted to attend Moscow University, and Yuli Daniel, whose bohemian apartment became a center for young intellectuals. Soon after graduation Sinyavsky was married to Mariya Rozanova, a student of art history. Although Sinyavsky had acquired some exposure to Western literature and art, he remained a fervent believer in the moral integrity of the Communist system. The first doubt arose when his father was arrested in 1951 on preposterous charges. In the early 1950’s Sinyavsky worked as a lecturer at Moscow University and then as a researcher at the Institute of World Literature. His articles were bringing him a degree of renown, but he wished to write fiction as well. Sinyavsky’s first story, “At the Circus” (1955), already reflects his love of the phantasmagoric and his persistent identification of the artist with the criminal.{$S[A]Tertz, Abram;Sinyavsky, Andrei}

Nikita Khrushchev’s historic 1956 denunciation of Stalin’s twenty-year reign of terror shattered Sinyavsky’s illusions. His new friendship with Boris Pasternak, who had sent his suppressed novel, Doctor Zhivago (1957), abroad, perhaps inspired him to ask Pelletier to smuggle his work abroad for publication. Under the pseudonym Abram Tertz, two long works appeared in France in 1959: a theoretical essay, On Socialist Realism, decrying the sterility of Socialist Realism and calling for a new “phantasmagoric” literature, and a novella, The Trial Begins, which illustrated the essay’s literary thesis and was a powerful indictment of the Stalinist dictum that the end justifies the means. In 1961, his story collection Fantastic Stories appeared in the West, followed two years later by The Makepeace Experiment, an antiutopian political fantasy. Sinyavsky’s reflections on many themes, especially religious ones, appeared in a collection of aphoristic notes entitled Unguarded Thoughts. These Western publications...

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Andrei Sinyavsky Biography (Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

By the time he was in his early forties, Andrei Donatovich Sinyavsky had achieved a large measure of success within Soviet society. Born and reared in Moscow, he attended Moscow University, from which he received the Soviet equivalent of a doctorate in 1952. His thesis was on Maxim Gorky, often considered the “father” of Socialist Realism. He then received a position at the Gorky Institute of World Literature, a branch of the Soviet Academy of Sciences; during the next dozen years, he published several studies on Gorky and also wrote about twentieth century poetry. At the end of the 1950’s, he began to publish reviews in the prestigious literary journal Novy mir, aligning himself with those struggling for greater artistic freedom through his attacks on some of the more conservative writers. Still, his name was not widely known until he published the introductory essay to a major 1965 collection of Boris Pasternak’s poetry (translated in For Freedom of Imagination, 1971).

Later that same year, much to the surprise of nearly everyone, he and a close friend, Yuli Daniel, were arrested; employing the pseudonyms Abram Tertz (the rogue hero of a thieves’ song once popular in Odessa) and Nikolai Arzhak, respectively, each had smuggled out stories to the West that were seen by the authorities as examples of “anti-Soviet propaganda.” Their trial, in February of 1966, was significant in that it was the first time that Soviet writers were actually convicted of a crime on the basis of their literary works. It also marked the end of the fitful liberalizing tendencies that...

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Andrei Sinyavsky Biography (Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Andrei Donatovich Sinyavsky was born in Moscow in 1925 and grew up there. He served in the Russian army during World War II. After the war, he was a student at the philological faculty of Moscow State University, one of the nation’s most prestigious institutions of higher learning. He eventually became a candidate of philological sciences, a degree equivalent to a doctorate in the United States, and he obtained a position as a senior staff member with the Gorky Institute of World Literature in Moscow. Sinyavsky immediately came to be regarded as a gifted critic; his book on postrevolutionary Russian poetry, Poeziya pervykh let revolyutsii, 1917-1920 (1964), coauthored with A. Menshutin, was considered one of the best studies of its time. His interests extended beyond literature to the plastic arts, and he collaborated with I. N. Golomshtok on a work about Pablo Picasso, Pikasso (1960).

Simultaneously with his activities as a critic, Sinyavsky pursued a secret career as a fantasy writer, using the name Abram Tertz; it was the revelations of de-Stalinization in 1956 that converted him from establishment critic to dissident author. Madame Hélène Peltier-Zamoyska, daughter of the French naval attaché in Moscow, had become close friends with Sinyavsky when they were students together at Moscow State University, and it was she who arranged for the publication of the works of “Tertz” in the West. In spite of Sinyavsky’s discretion, he was unmasked in 1965. He was tried in February, 1966, with fellow dissident writer Yuli Daniel, who had achieved fame in the West and notoriety in the Soviet Union as Nikolay Arzhak. Sinyavsky was sentenced to six years in prison, spending the time in a labor camp in Mordovia. He left the Soviet Union for France in 1973, thereafter teaching at the Sorbonne. The fine works that he has published since his departure attest Sinyavsky’s continued development as a writer.