Study Guide

Vassily Aksyonov

Vassily Aksyonov Biography

Biography (Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

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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Vassily Aksyonov Biography (Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Vassily Pavlovich Aksyonov was born in Kazan, Russia, on August 20, 1932. His parents, both committed Communists, were falsely arrested as “enemies of the people” in 1937. The future writer rejoined his freed mother and stepfather, a Catholic doctor-prisoner, in Siberia at age seventeen. Because “it’s easier for doctors in the camps,” it was decided that Aksyonov would attend medical school in Leningrad, from which he graduated in 1956, the year in which Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev denounced the crimes of Stalin. Taking advantage of the cultural “thaw,” the young practitioner began writing. After his successful first novel, Colleagues, was published in 1960, Aksyonov turned to full-time writing. The early “optimistic” period of his career came to an end on March 8, 1963, when Khrushchev himself publicly demanded recantation of his work. Publication became increasingly difficult, especially after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, but Aksyonov was permitted to accept a one-term Regents’ Lectureship at the University of California at Los Angeles in 1975.

In the late 1970’s, Aksyonov and a number of colleagues boldly undertook to publish an uncensored literary anthology to be called Metropol. Those involved were subjected to reprisals, and Aksyonov was, in effect, forced to emigrate in 1980. In the United States, Aksyonov published several works written earlier and taught at various universities. He was also a fellow at the prestigious Woodrow Wilson International Center. As a resident of Washington, D.C., Aksyonov continued to write novels, including Say Cheese!, a fictionalized version of the Metropol affair. An energetic publicist, Aksyonov occupied a leading position in émigré cultural affairs.

In 2004, Aksyonov and his wife, Maya, moved back to Russia, taking an apartment in Moscow. They retained a second home in Biarritz, France, however, and Aksyonov made it clear that if the Russian federal government should begin heroizing Stalin once again, he would disown his own country. Aksyonov died in Moscow on July 6, 2009.

Vassily Aksyonov Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Vassily Pavlovich Aksyonov (uhk-SYUH-nuhv) was the leading figure among those Soviet writers who came of age following Joseph Stalin’s death in 1953. The writers of the new generation dreamed of turning their country away from the nightmare of Stalinism toward a new future—socialism with a human face. Literature became the herald and beacon for the young generation, and Aksyonov as the controversial leader of the “young prose” movement became its spokesman and chronicler.

Aksyonov’s parents, both committed Communists, were falsely arrested as “enemies of the people” in 1937. Aksyonov rejoined his freed mother and stepfather, a Catholic doctor-prisoner, in Siberia at age seventeen. Because “it’s easier for doctors in the camps,” it was decided that Aksyonov would attend medical school in Leningrad, from which he graduated in 1956. Taking advantage of the “thaw,” the young doctor began to write. With the success of his first novel, Colleagues, Aksyonov turned to full-time writing. He became a major figure on the cultural scene with A Ticket to the Stars, a landmark book that served as the rallying point for the new generation. Soviet readers were not accustomed to sympathetic accounts of youthful alienation and were shocked by the book’s language and its young heroes’ irreverent attitude toward authority. In March, 1963, Nikita Khrushchev called a meeting of Soviet writers at which he half-cajolingly, half-threateningly castigated Aksyonov and his colleagues.

Throughout the rest of the 1960’s, Aksyonov succeeded in publishing only two further novels. His many short stories were even more popular: The most famous was “Halfway to the Moon” (1963); the best was “Victory” (1965). As publication became more difficult, Aksyonov turned to the theater, which he saw as a forum for social satire. Between 1963 and 1968 he wrote four plays, but only one, Vsegda v prodazhe (always on sale), survived the censor before it too was banned in 1972. Aksyonov also worked on a number of film scripts.

The Steel Bird, written in 1965 but first published more than a decade later in the United States, marks a crucial turning point for Aksyonov both stylistically and thematically. The earlier writings had remained within the limits of realism, and their optimistic themes were more social than political. The Steel Bird is a modernist political allegory warning of the return of Stalinism. The major work of the 1970’s was The Burn, written between 1969 and 1975 but published, again only in the West, in 1980. The long, complex novel is an indictment of the Russian intelligentsia for its moral collapse before the...

(The entire section is 1107 words.)