Yevtushenko’s autobiography is more than an account of his early years. Even though the book tells about his beginnings as a poet and about the important influences in his life, it is also a commentary on Soviet society. Because his family background predisposed him toward a revolutionary way of thinking, and because he was born and reared in a communist society, he identified early with communism as the best political system. At the same time, he was not blind to the faults and shortcomings of this system, as demonstrated to him most vividly during Stalin’s funeral. In his most famous poem, “Babi Yar,” he states defiantly that the Russian people are international to the core and he has retained that belief. It is not surprising, therefore, that he describes himself as a convinced communist until the end of the autobiography.
The only way to reconcile his faith in communism with its obvious disappointing results and with crimes committed in its name—the murder of his grandfathers, for example—was for Yevtushenko to cling to an idealistic faith in the innate goodness of communist ideals. His argument was that, if only Stalin and other leaders had followed the shining examples of Lenin and other early revolutionaries instead of perverting the revolutionary ideas, then the Soviet Union would have been spared an embarrassing history and remained the beacon for foreign true believers. Much of Yevtushenko’s activism is fueled by this belief in the...
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A Precocious Autobiography occupies a modest place in Yevtushenko’s literary opus, as he is primarily a poet. In other ways, however, it is an important work for him, as well as for Russian literature. The autobiography is a declaration of the poet’s readiness to join the struggle for the truth and for the rejuvenation of his country’s spirit. By making the declaration strongly personal, Yevtushenko elevates the struggle to the highest level of commitment. His call for action gains in significance within the historical context of a post-Stalin Soviet Union, at the time when it was dangerous to be brave and bold.
The autobiography offers glimpses of the literary development of one of the leading Russian poets of the second half of the twentieth century. The cameo appearance of Boris Pasternak is also very illuminating; in a very few strokes, Yevtushenko paints the essential Pasternak. The author’s early patrons, Nikolay Tarasov and Volodya Barlas, receive their just reward for seeing in Yevtushenko a poet when even he was not sure of his poetic future. His first wife, Bella Akhmadulina, demonstrates the breadth and strength of the movement of young Soviets toward a better life.
Aside from its literary merits as a lively and heartfelt narrative, A Precocious Autobiography remains a document of the spiritual and political awakening of an entire nation, especially of its poets and intellectuals, after a decades-long winter night. The book also augurs well for the future of the poet’s country and its literature.