Vassily Pavlovich Aksyonov, the son of Pavel Vassilievich and Evgenia Semyonovna (Ginzburg) Aksyonov, was born on August 20, 1932, in Kazan, a provincial city of the Soviet Union. Almost from the beginning, he was at odds with the Soviet government. Both his parents were arrested as enemies of the people during the Great Purges. His father was shot, and his mother was sentenced to hard labor in the prison camps of Siberia, leaving him effectively an orphan. He was placed in an institution for the children of enemies of the state, where he remained until relatives retrieved him.
When he was a teenager, his mother was released from the prison camp to begin a period of internal exile in the remote Magadan region. She managed to locate her son and bring him to her place of exile, where they made a precarious life for themselves. Young Aksyonov learned not to cry in the face of indignities heaped on him and his mother by drunken state security personnel, and his experiences while in exile both forged his unyielding moral character and sparked his interest in writing.
However, his formal education was as a physician, and his medical experience was the basis of his first novel, Kollegi (1961; Colleagues, 1962), which was published during the height of the thaw, a period of cultural liberalization under Nikita Khrushchev. Over the next several years, Aksyonov established his literary reputation with additional novels, short stories,...
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