Aksenov, Vasily (Pavlovich)
Vasily (Pavlovich) Aksenov 1932–
(Also transliterated as Aksyonov) Russian novelist, short story writer, and dramatist.
Aksenov's early fiction deals with the post-war generation of Soviet youth and is very popular within his native country. However, conservatives in the Soviet Union fault Aksenov's writing for its overtones of political satire and for its lack of didactic purpose. Aksenov's plays, in their attempt to capture the contemporary scene, rely on stylistic wordplay including slang, jargon, and other popular culture idioms.
(See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 53-56.)
Though it has a good deal of liveliness and some charm, A Starry Ticket is perhaps more interesting as a Soviet Russian symptom than as a novel. It is a sympathetic study of a group of very harmless stilyagi who inhabit the same Moscow flat-block. There is Dimka, the jazz and clothes fan, his girlfriend Galya, a sweet romantic, and Alik, a bearded near-beat would-be poet. They drift about inconsequently, pathetically, and rather emptily…. No crime or drugs and very little promiscuity. They are seen sometimes through their own eyes and sometimes through the eyes of Dimka's elder brother, Viktor. Viktor is a physicist, a serious character but alert to bureaucratic stuffiness, a middle of the roader. His attitude towards the young ones seems to be: there's nothing the matter with our stilyagi that a little time and understanding won't cure. (p. 804)
Maurice Richardson, "Dragooned," in New Statesman (© 1962 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), Vol. LXIII, No. 1629, June 1, 1962, pp. 804-05.∗
(The entire section is 161 words.)
["A Ticket to the Stars"] portrayed a group of seventeen-year olds who had just left secondary school. Their disillusionment with life around them begins within their families. They reject the ideals by which their parents live, although the latter are irreproachable Soviet citizens. As the story proceeds, the scope of their protest becomes greater: the youngsters are unwilling to come to terms with the social standards which are prescribed in a Communist society. These "disturbers of the peace" reinforce their words with deeds: they leave home, refuse to conform to any regulations and stop at nothing to reach their goals. Their revolt derives not from childish enthusiasm but from the power of their organic strivings for independence. (p. 38)The most colorful member of the group is Dimka who has no desire to be "a kid carrying out someone else's decisions." It is very significant that Dimka's elder brother, a young scientist, practically shares his younger brother's aspirations, or at any rate takes a favorable view of them. These youngsters do have their faults: the illogicality of their behavior, their sometimes unconsidered actions and the fact that among themselves they use outlandish slang. However, it is clear from the novel that the latter is not due to their attraction to the under-world but is merely an expression of their rejection of all strict canons. In the end they use their modest savings to leave Moscow and go as far west as...
(The entire section is 487 words.)
Vasiliy Aksyonov's It's Time My Friend It's Time would not disappoint the devotees of social-realism. On the face of it, the story of the protracted estrangement of a young married couple and their final coming-together, predictably spiced with those elements of romance, of sentiment, of nature-poetry and motherland-prose which belong to this genre, there emerges nevertheless a sharp flavour of something else. It is not just that the heroine is a film-star and that mention is made of such names as Antonioni, but that the style is light, even 'throwaway,' the approach 'cool.' Vasiliy Aksyonov is a more classical author than he pretends to be.
Henry Tube, "Readers First," in The Spectator (© 1969 by The Spectator; reprinted by permission of The Spectator), Vol. 222, No. 7342, March 14, 1969, p. 340.
(The entire section is 127 words.)
Daniel C. Gerould
In both the Soviet Union and the West, Vasilii Aksyonov is better known as a prose writer than as a playwright. His stories and novels of the early 1960s, such as Colleagues, Halfway to the Moon, and A Ticket to the Stars, dealing with the new, post-war generation of Soviet youth became popular with young readers in Russia….
Aksyonov's heroes speak a colloquial language full of juicy slang, often copy Western taste in dress and music, and travel lightly, without cumbersome ideological baggage. Skeptical yet naive, these uncommitted young people are in quest of romance and fellowship, hoping to fill the void in their empty personal lives and satisfy their vague yearnings for the heroic and meaningful.
Since Aksyonov—himself only thirty in 1962—depicted his characters sympathetically and honestly, he quickly became something of a spokesman for the new generation as well as for the emerging group of young Soviet writers associated with it. By the mid-1960s, however, Aksyonov abandoned the youth theme and turned his attention to artistic problems, attempting through stylistic experimentation and verbal parody to recapture the linguistic vitality and technical virtuosity of the early Soviet avant-garde.
It was in this spirit of exploration and re-animation of a dormant tradition that Aksyonov the novelist turned to the theatre in the mid-1960s and wrote two grotesque satires for the...
(The entire section is 762 words.)
[In The Steel Bird and Other Stories Vasily Aksenov's] heroes are free and unencumbered in their relationships with others. Moreover they are critical, cynical, occasionally rebellious and basically apolitical. Russian critics, however, while faulting Aksenov for his writing about the "Beatle generation" (stiljažestvo), praise him for his traditional use of humor, fantasy and symbolism….
[The title story] has not appeared in the Soviet Union; only a short excerpt called "The House of Lamplight Alley" was published in the Literaturnaja Gazeta in 1966. The hero of the novel, Popenkov, although he is not Stalin, acts like him by opposing people and by establishing his own cult of personality. The criticism of oppression in the novel is not limited to the Soviet Union; the steel birds are all over the world, but in the Soviet Union they are more evident…. While Aksenov perhaps wished to expose the crooked road to communism, the Soviet censors (editors) saw something else and rejected the work. And indeed the novel is full of allusions not only to various literary and historical mileposts of Russian civilization, but also to Stalin and the KGB….
[In another story, "Oranges from Morocco"] Aksenov, keeping our attention by his use of the fruit, exposes contemporary society in his portrayal of various characters who use slang, jocular allusions and current slogans. His references to such topics as...
(The entire section is 271 words.)
Harold B. Segel
Aksyonov's reputation rests primarily on such novellas about adolescence and growing up in the Soviet Union as Colleagues (1960), A Ticket to the Stars (1961), Oranges from Morocco (1962), and It's Time, My Love, It's Time (1963). In his later writing he has tended to move away from social problems and the everyday idiom of contemporary Soviet youth toward the grotesque and fantastic with far ranging stylistic experimentation. This departure in literary technique has also been accompanied—perhaps even inspired—by a conscious reassimilation of the Russian avant-garde literary heritage of the 1920s…. (pp. 407-08)
These newer literary concerns of Aksyonov found a felicitous creative outlet in dramatic writing before they became manifest, in fact, in his prose fiction. To date, Aksyonov has two plays to his credit—Vsegda v prodazhe (Always on Sale) and Vash ubiytsa (Your Murderer)….
Employing a variety of theatricalist and avant-garde techniques, many derived from popular culture (songs, dances, masks, film, TV, and so on), both plays are satires rooted in a darkening vision of an increasingly conformist society…. [The] theatrically more striking Your Murderer assumes a greater universality through its parable form reminiscent in some ways of [Aleksei] Faiko and [Yevgeni] Shvarts in Russia and of the later Brecht and Ionesco in the West.
(The entire section is 433 words.)
Walter F. Kolonosky
For almost twenty years Aksyonov has been one of the most popular writers in Soviet Russia. In the early 1960s he became a leading representative of a movement which was called "youth prose." His second novella, "Starry Ticket," which focused upon a group of Moscow dropouts seeking fun around the Baltic, created a sensation, as well as a scandal. While he was hailed as a sensitive spokesman of the young generation, he was criticized for portraying this generation as a group of stiljagi….
Although Aksyonov is an established author, he is also a developing writer. At forty-eight he continues to experiment with levels of language and narrative devices. His latest novel [Zolotaja naša železka] is an example of experimental prose—namely, playful prose. The title refers to a town in Siberia, the site of a research institute. It also refers to the quality of a piece of ferrous metal. At one level the title suggests that ferrous metal is golden. At another level it suggests that the town of Ironburg is precious. The plot, which unfolds according to a number of narrators and anti-narrators, concerns return trips to Ironburg, where several nuclear physicists search for a mysterious particle. Through flashbacks the reader becomes acquainted with the establishment and development of Ironburg. The reader also becomes acquainted with the half-fantastic and half-realistic "hero" Kitousov and his flirtatious wife Rita, not to...
(The entire section is 381 words.)
Although [Ožog] may be labeled "memoirs," since it contains obvious autobiographical material, in reality it is more than that, containing numerous literary and fictional qualities.
In Ožog Aksyonov shows us that he is an excellent student of Gogol, Dostoevsky and Bulgakov in Russia and of Hemingway, Faulkner and Salinger in the USA. His language is rich and innovative. The novel, despite its many references to current events, borders on magic realism…. Aksyonov constantly exposes anti-Semitism, bureaucracy, injustice, abuses by the KGB and the corrupt Soviet state. In his revelations Aksyonov persistently makes fun of the entire Soviet Union. He makes satirical use of Blok's verse as the motto of the novel: "That only a boor (xam) could make fun of, and insult, Russian life."… The political satire reaches a crescendo when the Red Army tanks roll over Czechoslovakia. The author affects an inability to understand how the young Red Army soldiers could commit crimes in Czechoslovakia, since, after all, they have read his story "The Overloaded Packing Barrels." A subsequent scene depicting a Czech girl on a rainy day ends in her death "through the courtesy" of a Red Army sergeant who is quicker with his submachine gun than the girl is in opening her umbrella. As the author witnesses the atrocities, he wonders: what is God doing tonight? But then one of the tanks keeps on rolling westward, and some 150 kilometers...
(The entire section is 320 words.)
[Ticket to the Stars portrays] a group of swinging young Leningraders set off for a good time in the Baltic resort town of Tallin, which, by the end of the novella, virtually changes its identity: from being a haven for jazz and other forms of Western decadence it becomes simply the nearest town to a fishing sovkhoz in which the hero decides to follow his destiny. This radical switch on the hero's part is paradigmatic, for in the youth novel a change of identity is the basic dynamic. (p. 228)
At the end of most youth novels the mentor dies, usually in some engagement with elemental forces or as the result of some accident. In Ticket to the Stars the mentor figure is actually the hero's real-life older brother, and he dies in an experiment connected with preparations for space travel…. Before his death, the mentor will, in the tradition of the Stalinist novel, either give the hero a "last testament" or hand him a synbolic "baton." Ticket to the Stars closes, for instance, with the young hero's gazing at his late brother's Komsomol membership card, his "ticket to the stars." (p. 230)
Katerina Clark, "The Khrushchev Years," in her The Soviet Novel: History as Ritual (reprinted by permission of The University of Chicago Press; © 1981 by The University of Chicago), University of Chicago Press, 1981, pp. 210-33.∗
(The entire section is 224 words.)