Yevtushenko, Yevgeny (Vol. 126)
Yevgeny Yevtushenko 1933–
Russian poet, novelist, essayist, dramatist, screenwriter, autobiographer, and editor.
The following entry presents an overview of Yevtushenko's career through 1997. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volumes 1, 3, 13, 26, and 51.
A remarkably prolific and charismatic writer, Yevtushenko has enjoyed an unprecedented degree of artistic and personal freedom throughout his career as the former Soviet Union's most famous and best-publicized contemporary poet. Foremost among the first post-Stalin generation of Russian poets, Yevtushenko has attracted a large audience and acquired an international reputation with dramatic readings of his own poetry. His poetry articulates both civic and personal themes in a politically-charged style reminiscent of the poetic forms and passionate language of an earlier period in Soviet history. Dozens of Yevtushenko's poems also have been made into popular Russian songs. Yevtushenko's writing inspired Soviet classical composer Dmitri Shostakovich to base his Symphony No. 13 on "Babi Yar," (1960) one cf Yevtushenko's best-known poems. Despite strict Soviet artistic standards imposed from the late 1960s through the mid-1980s, Yevtushenko has maintained his personal convictions and artistic integrity. With the advent of glasnost in the late 1980s, Yevtushenko became a leading activist in the struggle to reform Soviet society. As a briefly elected member of the Soviet Congress, Yevtushenko is credited with originating the governmental policy of perestroika and continues to speak out against political abuses of power in Russia. Although critical and popular reception of Yevtushenko's work has mostly hinged on the Soviet political climate, critics have generally praised the multicultural quality of his writings and regard Yevtushenko as Russia's premier but unofficial cultural emissary to the world.
Yevtushenko is a fourth-generation descendant of Ukrainians who were exiled to Siberia. He was born in Zima, a small town on the Trans-Siberian railway featured in his first important narrative poem, Stantsiya Zima (1956; Winter Station). As a teenager, Yevtushenko joined his father on geological expeditions in Kazakhstan and later studied world literature at the prestigious Gorky Literary Institute in Moscow, where he published his first book of poems, Razvedchiki gryaduschego (1952). As subsequent volumes appeared throughout the late 1950s and early 1960s, Yevtushenko emerged as the voice of Soviet youth and as a leading proponent of the Cold War "thaw" in diplomatic and cultural relations between the Soviet Union and the United States. In 1960 Soviet authorities permitted Yevtushenko to read his poems in Russia, the United States, and Europe. The result initiated a modest cultural exchange between East and West, making Yevtushenko an international celebrity. Soon afterward, he published and recited some of his best-known political poetry, including "Babi Yar" and The Heirs of Stalin (1962), which generated controversy and publicity in Russia and abroad. Yevtushenko independently published A Precocious Autobiography in English in 1963. After the publication of A Precocious Autobiography, Soviet officials revoked his privileges. But following the publication of Bratskaya GES (1965; New Works: The Bratsk Station)—considered by many critics to be his finest poetic work—Soviet officials relented.
During the 1970s, when cultural stagnation and political repression prevailed under Leonid Brezhnev, Yevtushenko began to experiment with literary forms other than poetry, including films and audio recordings. His first novel, Yagodnyye mesta (1981; Wild Berries), was a finalist for the Ritz Paris Hemingway Prize, and another novel, Ne umira prezhde smerti (1993; Don't Die before You're Dead), hit the Russian bestseller list in 1995. Meanwhile, Yevtushenko continued to write poetry, including Invisible Threads (1982) and Almost at the End (1987). In 1989, Yevtushenko was elected to the Soviet Congress of People's Deputies, where he led the democratic reform movement and bolstered its momentum by issuing both The Collected Poems, 1952–1990, and Fatal Half Measures in 1991. During the failed coup attempt in 1991, Yevtushenko remained to defend the Parliament building as tanks circled. During the ordeal, Yevtushenko composed a poem that he later read to Western television journalists. In 1996, Yevtushenko joined the faculty at Queens College.
As represented in The Collected Poems, Yevtushenko's poetry comprises a wide range of forms and themes that reflect his changing literary style and illumine the strong bond between political and poetic expression in Russian culture. Generally personal or declamatory in tone, Yevtushenko's poems blend political and social concerns of contemporary Soviet society with issues of personal morality. His poems also contrast Western values against the legacy of Stalin's regime, while still showing a deep loyalty to Russia. Yevtushenko's first critical success, Winter Station, for instance, lyrically describes the poet's return to his birthplace as he struggles with personal doubts regarding Stalin's social programs. The Heirs of Stalin, published at the height of the Cuban missile crisis, unsparingly attacks the former Russian ruler and his followers, warning against a resurgence of Stalinism. "Babi Yar," a poem lamenting the Nazi slaughter of tens of thousands of Ukrainian Jews in a ravine near Kiev during World War II, implies that the Soviet regime and Russian people generally sanction anti-Semitic sentiment. Yevtushenko's most ambitious cycle of poems, Bratskaya GES, draws parallels between modern Russian experiences and historical antecedents. The poems contrast the symbol of a Siberian power plant bringing light to Russia with the symbol of Siberia as a prison throughout Russian history. The title poem compares Russian workers responsible for building the power plant with slaves who built Egyptian pyramids. As the Soviet regime increased restrictions on artistic expression, Yevtushenko's poems began to exhibit a more somber tone to conform to official styles and themes. Although Stolen Apples (1971) addresses themes such as love, travel, and history, The Face behind the Face (1979) asserts the social relevance of poets and poetry in the Soviet Union. Another work of this period includes Pod kozhey Statui Svobody (1972; Under the Skin of the Statue of Liberty), a series of dramatic sketches set in the United States that denounce American violence but extol the idealism of its youth. Among his later poetry collections, Invisible Threads (1982) focuses on the need for international unity and is alternately optimistic and pessimistic—a theme common to most of Yevtushenko's work. Almost at the End (1987) gathers poetry and prose written in the Gorbachev era and examines differences between the East and West, along with effects of restricted personal freedom and censorship. Notable in this work is "Fuku," a long poem that deconstructs various Western historical figures. Yevtushenko's contribution to literature also includes the novel Wild Berries, which ostensibly celebrates Russian philosophy and existence but resembles an American-style thriller with action, sex, and exotic locales. Yevtushenko's Don't Die before You're Dead is a fast-paced, quasi-fictional account of the 1991 coup attempt and its psychological consequences for ordinary citizens. Fatal Half Measures is a collection of Yevtushenko's speeches and essays on themes advocating glasnost and Soviet democratic reform.
Despite implicit criticism of contemporary Soviet society and his tendency to occasionally test the literary standards of socialist realism, Yevtushenko has drawn enthusiastic response from young muscovites, as well as official approval from the Soviet regime. Later critics have speculated about Yevtushenko's literary merits since he generally has conformed to Soviet censors in his writing. Maura Reynolds attributes Yevtushenko's fluctuating reputation "as much to politics as poetry," noting that his knack "for ducking and riding political waves … has earned him both praise and derision, at different times, from many of the same people." Many commentators believe Yevtushenko has stood behind his early reputation for outspokenness, and that since the mid-1960s he has taken fewer risks, both politically and artistically. Skeptical about his exuberant personality abroad and suspicious about his intentions at home, some critics have found his poetry crude and artificial. However, Yevtushenko's writings have retained a broad, popular audience. Most critics have recognized Yevtushenko's efforts to relate the diverse cultures of a modernized, multinational Soviet Union with the literary cultures of the contemporary West. Other critics point to the vitality and authenticity of Yevtushenko's personal poems as evidence of his literary significance. Patricia Pollock Brodsky calls Yevtushenko an "engaged and engaging poet, one of the important, questioning voices of our age."
Razvedchiki gryaduschego (poetry) 1952
Tretii sneg: Kniga liriki (poetry) 1955
Shosse entusiastov (poetry) 1956
Stantsiya Zima [Winter Station] (poetry) 1956; originally published in journal Oktiabr
Obeschanie (poetry) 1957
Luk i lira: Stikhi o Gruzii (poetry) 1959
"Babi Yar" (poetry) 1960; originally published in journal Literaturnaya gazeta
Yabloko (poetry) 1960
Nezhnost: Novyii Stikhi (poetry) 1962
Posie Stalina (poetry) 1962
Selected Poems (poetry) 1962
Vzmakh ruki (poetry) 1962
Zamlung (poetry) 1962
I Am Cuba [with Enrique Pineda Barnet] (screenplay) 1963
A Precocious Autobiography (autobiography) 1963
Selected Poetry (poetry) 1963
The Poetry of Yevgeny Yevtushenko, 1953–1965 (poetry) 1964
Bratskaya GES (poetry) 1965; also published as New Works: The Bratsk Station and Bratsk Station and Other New Poems
The City of Yes and the City of No and Other Poems (poetry) 1966
Flowers and Bullets & Freedom to Kill (poetry) 1970
Stolen Apples (poetry) 1971
Pod kozhey Statui Svobody [Under the Skin of the Statue of Liberty] (verse drama) 1972
The Face behind the Face (poetry) 1979
Ivan the Terrible and Ivan the Fool (poetry) 1979
Yagodnyye mesta [Wild Berries]...
(The entire section is 227 words.)
SOURCE: "Past, Implacable," in The Economist, Vol. 306, No. 7535, January 30, 1988, pp. 75-6.
[In the following essay, the critic draws parallels between Yevtushenko's poetic themes and glasnost, concentrating on "Bukharin's Widow" and "Monuments Not Yet Erected."]
Yevgeny Yevtushenko, the modern Russian poet the West knows best, is not only delighted about glasnost; he takes some personal credit for it. Those now trying to push through reforms, he thinks, are probably the same people who went to his poetry readings in the late 1950s and early 1960s in clubs and factories and theatres round the country; the new openness is "an echo of our poetry." And it is poetry, in Mr Yevtushenko's eyes, that will have to drive glasnost on.
He is playing his part with his usual fierceness. Last June, after a meeting with the widow of Nikolai Bukharin, a Bolshevik leader executed by Stalin in 1938, he wrote "Bukharin's Widow", a poem intended to push forward the campaign to rehabilitate Bukharin and demolish Stalin; later last year, in "Monuments not yet Erected", he called for a public memorial to the victims of Stalins's purges. Both poems have just reached the West. When "Monuments" was published in Moscow, in November, it inspired furious letters to Izvestia; one suggested that Mr Yevtushenko should be sent "in good Stalinist fashion" to Siberia—from which he comes, and which has been the...
(The entire section is 942 words.)
SOURCE: "A Soviet Whitman." in The Christian Science Monitor, March 8, 1991, p. 10.
[In the following review, D'Evelyn emphasizes the public and social aspects of Yevtushenko's poetic practices evident in The Complete Poems.]
For about 30 years now, Yevgeny Yevtushenko has lit up the international scene with his unique fireworks, a blend of chutzpah, charm, and sheer gall. His most recent coup—a teaching stint at the University of Pennsylvania—brings the career of this Soviet poet to a pinnacle of success. Now the publication of his complete poems in English [The Complete Poems] will provide opportunities for a long look at the basis of his career, a large body of poems of diverse kinds that is at once accessible and beguilingly obscure.
Yevtushenko was 20 when Stalin died. He rode the anti-Stalin wave to prominence, reading in front of thousands and selling tens of thousands of his books of poetry. Even when the inevitable swerve came and Khrushchev attacked modern art, Yevtushenko kept baiting dogmatic bureaucrats and those he would call "comradwhatifers" in a poem. He also spoke in solidarity with Jews. In 1963, the great hammer fell. Yevtushenko was forced to confess his irreparable error. While others, like Solzhenitsyn, chose silence, Yevtushenko got a second wind and was praised by party organs for his civic-mindedness.
This patriot, who has achieved...
(The entire section is 1247 words.)
SOURCE: "Perestroika Redefines the Poet's Role," in The Christian Science Monitor, March 8, 1991, p. 11.
[In the following essay, Kidder expresses Yevtushenko's concerns about the state of Russian politics, poetry, and attitudes toward indigenous cultural traditions in the era of perestroika.]
Yevgeny Yevtushenko is a man at a crossroads. Still one of the Soviet Union's best-known poets, he treats each conversation almost like a performance—arms flying to emphasize his points, metaphors abounding in a rush of language, political opinions jostling with personal probings. To talk with him is to see poetry being made while you watch.
But in the past few years, something odd has been happening. The traditional elements of his brand of Russian poetry—the high oratory, detailed allegory, vivid metaphor, and direct syntax of verse forms meant to be heard as much as read—are still there. What has changed is the context. Under Mikhail Gorbachev's policy of glasnost, the political oppression and literary censorship that made Soviet poetry such a furtive, powerful, and necessary part of the mental landscape has begun to drain away.
"I just finished writing a long article, 'Censorship as the Best Reader,'" he says during an hour-long interview in Washington. "It's a bitter irony. I am talking how I am longing for censorship—because nobody better than censors understood all...
(The entire section is 1121 words.)
SOURCE: "Half Free," in New Statesman & Society, March 15, 1991, p. 37.
[In the following review, Rumens evaluates the themes and styles of The Collected Poems with respect to Yevtushenko's emerging poetic identity.]
"Who the hell is this damned Y Y?" asks Yevtushenko in the forward to Stolen Apples (1973), ironically parroting his various critics: "An unofficial diplomat performing secret missions for the Kremlin?… A Soviet Beatle?… An export item, perhaps, like vodka or black caviar?… When is Yevtushenko sincere? When he is writing about Vietnam or Babii Yar?"
Perhaps he has had to be many different people. Yet the Collected Poems, for all its variety, is a consistent narrative, dominated by the haunted figure of a Russian poet, as deeply rooted as any of his breed, sent by success and the mid-20th-century publicity machine into dizzy orbit between the two arch-enemies of the cold war, beaming messages first to one, then the other, and emotionally involved in both. A complex character, living in highly complex times, Yevtushenko often likes to picture himself as a skinny, wily Siberian street urchin, living off his wits. Maybe this figure is the clue to the "real" man, who unites the rebel and the opportunist, the cheerleader and the dissident, the people's poet and the tormented soul-searcher under one skin.
He was born in 1933 in...
(The entire section is 660 words.)
SOURCE: "Making It," in The New Republic, May 6, 1991, pp. 33-7.
[In the following review, Venclova traces the evolution of Yevtushenko's "accommodating" tone, themes, and style in both his poetry and prose and his changing relevance to Russian politics and literature.]
An interesting article by Yevgeny Yevtushenko, part essay, part memoir, recently appeared in Literaturnaya Gazeta in Moscow, in which the poet dwells at length on his skirmishes with Soviet reactionaries. The title of the article is "Fencing with a Pile of Dung," which is meant to be a bold metaphor. Among other tales. Yevtushenko tells the story of his visit to the pre-perestroika Kremlin, where he was to be honored with the Order of the Red Banner:
The Order was presented by a vice-chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, and Azerbaijani whose last name I cannot, for the life of me, recall. Pinning the order to the lapel of my jacket and inviting me to a hunting party in Azerbaijan, he awkwardly pierced my jacket, my shirt, and even pricked me. It was rather painful. The Kremlin people hurt me often enough. They hurt others, too.
The next story deals with the presentation of a State Prize to Yevtushenko in 1984 for his long poem "Momma and the Neutron Bomb." "The censorship office attempted to ban the poem," he writes, "but it did not succeed."...
(The entire section is 3770 words.)
SOURCE: "The Truth of Poetry," in The Hudson Review, Vol. XLIV, No. 2, Summer, 1991, pp. 343-45.
[In the following excerpt, Cotter outlines the principal themes of Yevtushenko's poetry in The Collected Poems.]
I once reviewed a sequence of poems about a marriage and divorce. The story was detailed, painful, funny, and fully involving. I later learned that the poet had made up the whole thing. I was delighted. I had been taken in by the author's voice and the entire situation he had imagined. The truth of poetry is not in reciting facts but in creating veracity. I ask a poem to be true to itself, to convince me and to capture my attention with its thought, emotion, imagery, and language. Do not preach or put on airs, I tell the poem. Tell the truth, and I'll believe you. What more can a reader ask?
"I'm no good … I have a weak link with life," Yevgeny Yevtushenko complains in "I don't understand," a poem from his newly collected poetry [The Collected Poems]. He qualifies his disarming admission, however, with an ingenuous self-defense: "But if I connect with so many things, / I must, apparently, stand for something." Yevtushenko has stood for many good causes in the past thirty years: poetry as a voice that rallies public consciousness, freedom to speak out in protest against human rights violations, a world view that transcends nationalist boundaries, and the power of the...
(The entire section is 909 words.)
SOURCE: A review of The Collected Poems 1952–1990, in World Literature Today, Winter, 1992, pp. 156-57.
[In the following review, Brodsky provides a thematic and stylistic overview of the contents of The Collected Poems.]
The new Collected Poems 1952–1990 reflects Yevgeny Yevtushenko's poetic career in microcosm: vast and uneven, sometimes irritating, often appealing, and ever astonishing in its variety. The title is somewhat misleading, since the volume offers only a selection from Yevtushenko's extensive oeuvre, and in addition, several long poems are represented in excerpts only. Yevtushenko's allusiveness can be a problem for Western readers; a few names and terms are explained in footnotes, but this practice could profitably have been expanded. A helpful feature is the chronological list of poems with their Russian titles, date and place of first publication, and location, if any, in the 1983 Sobranie sochinenii (see WLT 59:4).
Like the poems themselves, the translations by twenty-five translators vary in quality. A few are revisions of earlier versions. Most of Yevtushenko's poems use slant rhyme relying heavily on assonance, a practice so closely associated with him as to be called "Yevtushenkean rhyme" (evtushenkovskaia rifma). Russian's rich phonetic structure allows almost limitless use of this kind of rhyme; a master of the form and...
(The entire section is 742 words.)
SOURCE: A review of Fatal Half Measures, in World Literature Today, Winter, 1992, p. 159.
[In the following review, Croft vaunts the rich detail and informed perspective of Soviet society in Fatal Half Measures.]
Yevgeny Yevtushenko has been particularly blessed by the glasnost era in Soviet politics. Now he is able to shed every vestige of compromise and live his own legend. He has become a truly uncompromising man, and he has decided to use his fame as a poet and his powers of persuasion for political effect. This is a switch, to be sure. Soviet poets have long attempted, albeit futilely, to remain apart from politics. However, Yevtushenko was elected to the Soviet Congress of People's Deputies in 1989, and he has by now clearly become one of the leaders of the Soviet democratic movement. During the attempted coup of August 1991, he was among those who opposed a return to totalitarian methods. He was, in fact, in the Russian Parliament Building while it was still surrounded by tanks, composing a poem to honor Boris Yeltsin's leadership. Who can forget him reading his own English translation of it to Western reporters as the coup's demise became apparent?
In Fatal Half Measures, a collection of speeches, essays, and reminiscences, Yevtushenko seems to be urging Soviet society on toward democracy as one would goad a stalled mule. "On the brink of precipices," he...
(The entire section is 591 words.)
SOURCE: A review of Fatal Half Measures, in Slavic and East European Journal, Vol. 36, No. 1, Spring, 1992, pp. 120-22.
[In the following review, Ludwig outlines the principal themes of Fatal Half Measures, revealing their significance to Yevtushenko's poetic works.]
Until the publication of this book [Fatal Half Measures], the title of which comes from the 1989 poem which precedes the introduction, Yevgeny Yevtushenko was known in the English speaking world primarily through translations of his poetry. In her introduction, however, Antonina Bouis, borrowing the opening line of Yevtushenko's "Bratsk Hydroelectric Station," notes "A POET in Russia is more than a poet." To understand any Russian poet, especially Yevtushenko who has been a political player for almost thirty years, one must look beyond poetry. Therefore, with the help of the author, she has collected and translated this series of political essays, speeches, travelogues, and works of literary criticism, the majority of which were composed in the 1980s, to show that there is more to Yevtushenko than poetry. As she states, her hope is to show "the range and scope of his concerns."
The book is divided into a prologue plus six sections, each containing essays which center around a specific theme. The prologue consists of Yevtushenko's first "nonpoetic political protest," his telegram to Brezhnev after the...
(The entire section is 1238 words.)
SOURCE: "Russian Poet Still Pleases, Provokes," in The San Diego Union-Tribune, May 6, 1993, p. F1.
[In the following essay, Reynolds discusses Yevtushenko's reputation in relation to his politics.]
If it is hard for a poet to become a legend in his time, surely remaining a legend is still harder.
Yet for the last three decades, through shifting regimes and ideologies, Yevgeny Yevtushenko has managed to remain the most famous of Russia's living poets.
From "Babi Yar," the 1961 poem that forced the Soviet Union to confront its anti-Semitism, to a forthcoming novel about the August 1991 coup that eventually launched Boris Yeltsin to the Russian presidency, Yevtushenko has somehow managed to have a hand in most of the political upheavals that have wracked his motherland in the last 30 years.
Many praise his courage to probe the social and political wounds of Soviet history, from anti-Semitism to neo-fascism.
"Mr. Yevtushenko told the truth in the Soviet Union when it was a dangerous thing to do, and he is still telling the truth," said Watson Branch, chairman of the English department at the Bishop's School in La Jolla, who introduced the poet's first reading at SDSU's Don Powell Theater Tuesday night.
But others, especially émigrés, deride this same ability, seeing Yevtushenko as more political opportunist than...
(The entire section is 919 words.)
SOURCE: A review of Twentieth Century Russian Poetry, in New Statesman & Society, Vol. 6, No. 273, October 8, 1993, p. 42.
[In the following review, Tonkin commends the selections of Twentieth Century Russian Poetry.]
"The history of the Russian and Soviet peoples in the 20th century is a bizarre, fantastic fable that could not have been invented by the wildest imagination." As I read that, the heroic defender of Russian liberty in August 1991 turned his tanks on the parliament. In Moscow's tragic pantomime of role-reversal, each new turn upstages the army of journalists who try to fix in print the chaos of post-communism.
While punditry fades in the light of tomorrow's headlines, poetry keeps its bloom. This year's most enticing book about Russia will be Yevgeny Yevtushenko's magnificent anthology of Twentieth Century Russian Poetry (edited by Albert C Todd and Max Hayward). Its 1,000-plus pages close with a poem by Ilya Krichevsky, killed at the White House in 1991: "Still yet a long, long way to go / still yet many who will lie in ditches …"
In a country where slim volumes of verse can sell out editions of 200,000 in a couple of days, poetry has never lost its direct line to the people's imagination. This epic compilation—830 poems and 253 authors—amounts to a history of the nation's inner life as well as a guided trek across schools,...
(The entire section is 473 words.)
SOURCE: "Rediscovered Gems Play Again," in The Christian Science Monitor, March 10, 1995, p. 13.
[In the following review, Sterritt praises the cinematic style of I Am Cuba.]
Confounding the conventional view that the newest movies are the most exciting movies, rediscoveries from bygone years are providing some of this season's most interesting fare.
At the head of the list comes I Am Cuba, a remarkable 1964 picture that literally defies description.
Belatedly brought to theaters by Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola, who have admirable records of digging out overlooked cinematic gems, the movie has an episodic plot about freedom fighters, urban rebels, sugar-cane harvesters, and other figures from Cuban society just before Fidel Castro's revolution ousted the old capitalist regime.
The film meanders from one storyline to another, sometimes pausing long enough to build effective suspense, sometimes moving on before anything of consequence has happened. If its forced nostalgia for Cuban socialism were all it had to offer, it would be little more than a historical curiosity, even if it does boast a loquacious screenplay by Yevgeny Yevtushenko, the legendary Russian poet, and Enrique Pineda Barnet, his respected Cuban counterpart. What ranks I Am Cuba among the most thrilling films in recent memory is neither its subject nor its...
(The entire section is 353 words.)
SOURCE: "Yevtushenko-Poet of Love and Politics," in Vancouver Sun, May 6, 1995, p. D2.
[In the following essay, the critic profiles Yevtushenko's life and career with respect to the poet's politics and literary themes.]
Nikita Khrushchev called him ungovernable—but left him alone (more or less) to write the scathing poetic outbursts of moral indignation against Communist oppression that made him the voice of his generation.
Envious writer colleagues, watching his rise to fame in Russia and (more importantly) abroad, called him a licensed dissenter—one who sold out to the authorities as a tame tiger in exchange for privilege and foreign travel.
Yevgeny Yevtushenko calls himself an independent-minded loyalist.
He stood on the Moscow barricades alongside the defenders of Russia's precarious democracy during the attempted White House coup by military hard-liners in 1991 and versified eloquently about it from the balcony.
Yet his moral anger at the slaughter in Chechnya was so great that when Yeltsin offered him a decoration last November for his part in defeating the coup, he turned it down.
He shrugs when you suggest this was a brave man's act.
"It wasn't political gesture for me," he says. "I didn't want to make any kind of political capital. But it was a moral impossibility for me—I couldn't...
(The entire section is 1676 words.)
SOURCE: "Russian Roue," in Maclean's, June 12, 1995, pp. 60-62.
[In the following review, Wilson-Smith assesses the literary merits of Don't Die before You're Dead, concentrating on characterization and thematic emotion.]
If Yevgeny Yevtushenko did not exist, another author might have invented him as the central character in one of those sweeping epics that Russian writers adore. The problem would be that, as a work of fiction, Yevtushenko's real life strains credulity. A literary superstar in Russia since his teens, he attracts stadium crowds of up to 30,000 for his poetry readings. He moonlights as an actor, director, screenwriter and political activist. And his passion for life includes filling significant parts of it in the company of women and good wine. Appropriately for someone whose achievements seem larger than life, he is, at six feet, three inches, larger than most people around him, dresses in an eclectic, electric manner that would do the lead singer of a rock band proud, and, with his famous piercing blue eyes undimmed at age 61, has just as much stage presence. As befits someone who has spent close to half a century being acclaimed, Yevtushenko has an ego in keeping with his achievements. "I am the spiritual grandchild of Pushkin," he says, cheerfully likening himself to the man generally regarded as Russia's greatest writer.
Sometimes, although not always, the...
(The entire section is 1424 words.)
SOURCE: "Yevtushenko's Revolution," in The New York Times Book Review, November 12, 1995, p. 53.
[In the following review, Stanley situates Don't Die Before You're Dead in a contemporary Russian literary and social context, addressing the relevance of Yevtushenko's literary art.]
It can take a while, but success and fame in Russia are always punished eventually. Throughout the 1960's, 70's and 80's and even up until the moment the statues of Lenin came tumbling down, Yevgeny Yevtushenko was the Russian "superpoet," worshiped by millions. They packed soccer stadiums to hear him recite his ringing, defiant verse, and in the West he was lionized for his talent and extravagant charm. Mr. Yevtushenko's stature was so inviolable it daunted even the KGB, which skittered between intimidation and clumsy attempts to flatter and co-opt him.
These days an iron curtain of indifference surrounds the 62-year-old Mr. Yevtushenko in his own country. He still has fans, particularly in the provinces, but the editors, artists and politicians who used to fawn on him and celebrate his every word have stonily turned away. He no longer fills soccer stadiums. His latest novel was barely reviewed at home.
Don't Die Before You're Dead, Mr. Yevtushenko's account of the August 1991 coup, well translated by Antonia W. Bouis, is nominally about the redemption of those Russians who...
(The entire section is 1046 words.)
SOURCE: A review of Don't Die Before You're Dead, in Times Literary Supplement, November 17, 1995, p. 27.
[In the following review, Chamberlain appreciates the vitality and balance of the account of the 1991 Russian putsch in Don't Die Before You're Dead.]
Yevgeny Yevtushenko is a household name in Russia, where his poetry has entered the language. His ability to survive in a position of privilege through four decades of Soviet life has, however, so damaged his moral reputation that a few years ago his enemies burnt him in effigy. It is a mark of his professionalism as a writer that this novel [Don't Die before You're Dead], in which he appears as a character, does not reduce to an apologia. It is a vast, emotionally satisfying tableau of Russian lives rooted in fear.
In August 1991, the world held its breath for three days when Gorbachev was under house arrest in the Crimea and Yeltsin stood on a tank outside the Moscow White House, defending democracy. This is an account of what it felt like to be on the scene, fighting and hoping. The vivid characters include a python and a clock work toy. Even the python drags her history with her, an image of a typical dialectic of freedom and imprisonment, trust and terror. A drink-sodden ex-football star and the woman he should have married twenty-five years before represent the resilience of human nature. A policeman and...
(The entire section is 398 words.)
SOURCE: A review of the Babi Yar Symphony, in American Record Guide, January 11, 1996, pp. 174-5.
[In the following review, Hansen highlights the musical significance of literary allusions to Babi Yar in an audio recording of Shostakovich's symphonic version of the poem.]
Can there be a body of music more suited than Shostakovich's to sum up the 20th Century? This music is angry, violent, bitter, biting, depressive, ugly, coarse, brutal, sardonic, haunted, enigmatic, gloomy, desperate, terrified, sentimental, brooding, ironic, and always fiercely emotional under the bleak surface. So how can it be that I am willing to suggest that he is our century's greatest symphonist, when I have often in these pages ground the ax that the primary purpose of music is to create beauty and take us to a level of consciousness beyond the ordinary world? Can it be that beauty is a rather difficult commodity to create from thin air in a century whose main contribution to history is the perfection of the technology to commit atrocities on a scale only dreamt of in night mares by previous ages? In the controversial set of memoirs compiled by Solomon Volkov that may or may not be from Shostakovich's mouth, Shostakovich is supposed to have stated on one occasion that each of his works is a tombstone, a monument to some unhappy soul forcibly torn from this life too soon and often in the most unspeakable manner. If...
(The entire section is 1365 words.)
SOURCE: A review of Don't Die before You're Dead, in The Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 277, No. 2, February 1996, pp. 113-14.
[In the following review, Adams comments on the vivid narrative techniques of Don't Die before You're Dead.]
Mr. Yevtushenko's exciting novel [Don't Die before You're Dead] about the 1991 attempt to overthrow Mikhail Gorbachev's government puts the reader right on the barricades along with the author. It throws together personal observation, real and imaginary characters, actual and fictional events, satire and tragedy, past and present, prose and poetry. The fictional characters include an honest, and therefore disaffected, policeman, an émigré poet returned from Paris, and a former soccer star fallen into drunken decay. The real characters, with the exception of Gorbachev. Boris Yeltsin, and the author, are given generic names such as 'the Crystal-Clear Communist' and 'the Great Degustator.' The fictional characters permit the author to portray aspects of Soviet society such as the expatriate literary colony in Paris and the future of superannuated athletes. The soccer player provides some superb comedy—a ludicrous teenage drinking party and a tournament in which a team of creaky but wily veterans tries to lose at least one game to its generous but inept local hosts. The dazzling variety of effects in Mr. Yevtushenko's semi-history winds down with a wistful poem,...
(The entire section is 263 words.)
SOURCE: "Well Versed," in Charleston (West Virginia) Gazette, March 28, 1996, p. 1D.
[In the following essay, Burnside provides an overview of Yevtushenko's literary career in comparison to contemporary and past writers and themes.]
When a friend took Yevgeny Yevtushenko to Babi Yar, the site near Kiev where the Nazis massacred more than 30,000 Jews in two days, he felt enraged. Not only at the thought of what the Nazis had done, but also at how the site stood barren, as if nothing had ever happened there.
Moved by what he saw as a "dumpy ravine" holding "so many bones of innocent people," the Soviet poet picked up a pen and wrote his own monument ["Babi Yar"], a response to an act that led him to both reproach anti-Semites and declare his Russian ancestry.
"It's a miracle how quickly I wrote it," he said during a telephone interview from Queens College in Forest Hills, N.Y, where he has been teaching poetry. "As many poems are, it was already written by someone, and I just used my hand to write it."
In 1961, the Siberian native, who grew up both in his own homeland as well as in Moscow published the poem "Babi Yar" to much acclaim. He even appeared on the cover of Time magazine in 1962. Already allowed to travel abroad, the events secured his reputation and turned Yevtushenko into a chic literary figure during the turbulent '60s....
(The entire section is 2010 words.)
SOURCE: A review of Don't Die before You're Dead, in America, Vol. 175, No. 1, July 6, 1996, pp. 34-5.
[In the following review, Thompson pans Don't Die before You're Dead, charging Yevtushenko with obfuscating historical realities.]
Between the cold-blooded planners of Soviet strategy, on the one hand, and those who adamantly refused to participate in the Soviet enterprise, on the other, there has always been enough crawl space to accommodate people like Yevgeny Yevtushenko, a Russian poet and court dissident during the Krushchev and Brezhnev years. His first novel [Don't Die before You're Dead] depicts the ups and downs of Gorbachev's perestroika and its aftermath, the Yeltsin years. It is written in a style reminiscent of John Dos Passos, and its "newsreel" chapters are replete with flash-blacks and split personalities. Borrowings from Russian writers likewise abound. The plot unfolds over a period of three days, recalling a similar schedule in Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov. The author's effort to portray representatives of all social classes recalls Doctor Zhivago's chaotic panorama of Russian life. Gorbachev's internal monologue imitates the musings of Stalin in Solzhenitsyn's The First Circle. In a characteristic detail showing Yevtushenko's proclivity to edit history, Gorbachev is no-where called "First Secretary" but rather "Mr. President." This is...
(The entire section is 1026 words.)
SOURCE: A review of an audio recording of Babi Yar Symphony, in American Record Guide, September 19, 1996, pp. 202-3.
[In the following review, Linkowski praises an audio recording of Shostakovich's Babi Yar Symphony, detailing its origins in Yevtushenko's poem and its premier performance in 1962.]
Russian Anti-Semitism is not a well-guarded secret. The Czars had their pogroms and the commissars their purges. Even those who were accomplished in the Arts and Sciences were not free from the ever-present shadow of discrimination. When the doors of the prison finally opened, thousands of Jews fled to new lives in the West. This unthinking racism was not solely the province of the illiterate mujik, but also of the intelligencia. Dostoyevsky was a noted hater of Jews. But so then were such composers of beautiful, soulful, romantic music as Balakirev, Moussorgsky, and Tchaikovsky. Even Stravinsky engaged in the fashionable Western European anti-Semitism of his time.
Rimsky-Korsakoff was an exception, and so was Shostakovich, who spoke out against such mindless discrimination. He grew up and worked in the Stalinist period where everyone was a potential victim of a paranoid tyrant. It has recently come out that Stalin had his own "Final Solution" in mind and planned to make his own domain Judenrein.
Another artist who was appalled by rampant Russian...
(The entire section is 664 words.)
SOURCE: "A Concert Stage Too Small for Morality and Art," in Los Angeles Times, November 9, 1996, p. 1.
[In the following review, Swed assesses the viability of composer Shostakovich's symphonic rendition of Babi Yar, focusing on the musical presentation of the poem's themes and tones.]
Shostakovich's Symphony No. 13 is courageous, moral music. As much a cantata as a symphony, its five movements each set—for bass soloist, male choir and orchestra—a poem by Yevgeny Yevtushenko. The first movement is Shostakovich's somber intoning of "Babi Yar," the dissident poet's famous evocation of Soviet anti-Semitism at a time, 1962, when such topics were possible but still dangerous to express publicly.
The poem "Babi Yar" concerns the slaughter of thousands of Jews by Nazis in 1941 outside Kiev. It and the symphony, which has also come to be known as Babi Yar, has meant a great deal to dissident Russians. Yet when Shostakovich's work finally got a hearing in Los Angeles Thursday night for the first time, there was a steady trickle of patrons leaving the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion during the performance. It was well played by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and competently led by Estonian conductor Eri Klas, so that surely was not cause for dissatisfaction.
Nor is it thinkable that the defectors were neo-Nazis or unreformed, '50s-style Soviet agents offended...
(The entire section is 751 words.)
SOURCE: "In His Own Words," in Newsday, April 4, 1997, p. A6.
[In the following essay, Schaer reports his impressions of Yevtushenko's public reading of his poetry during a visit to Long Island, New York, providing an overview of the poet's career.]
Yevgeny Yevtushenko sat in the library director's office fidgeting with a pile of his poems, and the words he was murmuring were anything but lyrical: "too much, too much … I have to cut it down."
Russia's most famous living poet had come to the Connetquot Public Library in Bohemia, and minutes before he was to appear in the library's community room, he was hastily winnowing out poems from his program and concluding his rehearsal with his translator. "Is there a crowd out there?" he asked.
At 63, Yevtushenko is a poet with a long history, who in his own country could fill a Moscow soccer stadium with poetry lovers. But on Wednesday, he was wondering how he would play in a medium-sized community library that draws on 40,000 residents who live in Ronkonkoma, Oakdale and Bohemia, an area of diverse population but not crammed with people who could be expected to understand a poet reading his words in Russian.
But when he strode onto the tiny stage, accompanied by his former student John O'Donnell, who would provide English translations, Yevtushenko found a filled room.
"You never know where...
(The entire section is 991 words.)
Van Blema, David. "Yevgeny Yevtushenko." People Weekly (31 March 1986): 70-7, 75-7.
Incorporates Yevtushenko's commentary during a visit to New York City, providing an overview of his life and career.
Bayley, John. "Poet of the Appropriate." Times Literary Supplement (14 June 1991): 3.
Discusses the public nature of Yevtushenko's poetry and essays in The Collected Poems and Fatal Half Measures.
Brown, Clarence F. "Ashes and Crumbs." Times Literary Supplement (7 January 1994): 8.
Reviews the selection and organization of Twentieth Century Russian Poetry, disputing factual information and calling the anthology "a mess."
Lloyd, John. "Perestroika and Its Discontents." London Review of Books (11 July 1991): 12.
Questions the sincerity of Yevtushenko's political motives as represented in Fatal Half Measures.
Mano, D. Keith. "Yevtushenko." National Review (17 July 1987): 53-5.
Outlines the literary and cultural significance of Yevtushenko's career.
(The entire section is 211 words.)