Yuri Kazakov 1927-1982
(Born Yuri Pavlovich Kazakov; also transliterated as Yury, Yurii, Iurii, Jurij, or Yuriy) Russian short fiction writer.
Kazakov is viewed as one of the more important Soviet authors to emerge from the post-Stalin period. His short stories were a decided change from the long, ideological novels that were being written at that time. Critics have often compared his work to that of Anton Chekhov.
Kazakov was born in Moscow in 1927. His parents were from the Russian provinces and instilled in him a love of the rural areas of the country, particularly the area along the White Sea coast. In fact, the contrast between the city and the country would become a recurring theme in his work. He began to study music in 1944 and entered the Gnesin Music School in 1946; he would later teach in music schools and play in different orchestras and musical groups. In 1953 he entered the Institute of Literature, graduating five years later. He began to write and publish stories in Soviet periodicals while a student. When a prestigious Soviet literary critic, Konstantin Paustovskii, published an article in The Literary Gazette praising Kazakov's work, a controversy erupted among older, more conventional authors who felt that Kazakov's fiction was pessimistic and not ideologically acceptable. In his later years, he primarily wrote children's stories. He died in 1982.
Major Works of Short Fiction
Kazakov's stories are short and deal with events in the lives of ordinary people. Several of his stories deal with animals and the natural world. His best-known story is “Arcturus, a Hunting Dog.” In a small northern town, a blind dog lives a difficult life scavenging food from garbage dumps. One day a lonely, widowed doctor takes the filthy and tired animal home and cleans him up. The dog stays, and the doctor names him after the evening star, Arcturus. The dog and his master form a strong bond. The doctor takes Arcturus on long walks in the forest and discovers that the blind dog has remarkable hunting instincts. Soon the dog's fame spreads all over the region and the doctor is offered large amounts of money for Arcturus, but the man refuses. Tragically, one day the dog fails to return from the forest. Years later the doctor finds a rusted collar hanging from a branch; the blind dog had apparently impaled himself. Another group of stories concerns the lives of men and women who isolate themselves from society. For example, the protagonist of “An Easy Life” is a peripatetic worker who avoids responsibility and contact with others. He is vaguely troubled by his lack of emotional connection with people and his resulting spiritual emptiness. The autobiographical “Adam and Eve” focuses on a Soviet artist at odds with the prevailing literary establishment. He struggles to deal with his stalled career as well as his own self-destructive actions.
Kazakov's work is noted for his compassionate portrayal of downtrodden and ordinary characters, as well as the precision and lyrical nature of his language. His deft contrast between urban and provincial life has been discussed as a recurring theme in his work. Some reviewers contend that many of Kazakov's stories are limited in scope and show no development or resolution. During his lifetime, Soviet literary critics derided his stories for their pessimistic tone and lack of ideological heroes. Although his work is thought to invoke such nineteenth-century Russian authors as Ivan Turgenev, Leo Tolstoy, and Anton Chekhov, many scholars perceive Kazakov as a transitional writer, as he represents an important break from the Soviet literature of the early twentieth century.
Na polustanke 1959
Po Dorage (stories and a sketch) 1961
Goluboe: Zelenoe (stories and sketches) 1963
Legkaia zhizn [An Easy Life] 1963
Going to Town, and Other Stories 1964
Selected Short Stories 1964
Zapakh khleba [The Smell of Bread, and Other Stories] 1965
Arcturus the Hunting Hound, and Other Stories 1968
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SOURCE: A review of An Easy Life, in Soviet Literature, Vol. 1, 1964, pp. 188-89.
[In the following essay, Kornilova outlines the defining characteristics of the stories comprising An Easy Life.]
Yuri Kazakov's stories are about ordinary things and ordinary people. There is nothing special about the people, nothing dramatic happens to them. His inspector Zubavin, whose job involves a lot of travelling, is again off on one of his missions; mechanic Kudryavtsev is returning empty-handed after a day's hunting, collective-farm club manager Zhukov is walking across a field after a hard day that has brought him one vexation after another. Each has only the usual round of dull cares to look forward to. But suddenly, surprisingly, “for no good reason,” each is overwhelmed by a deep sense of happiness. With one it is brought on at sight of a fog veiling the stars, with another by the glow of a distant campfire, with a third by the nocturnal breath of the forest and the smell of a river. Overtaken by it, mechanic Kudryavtsev wonders:
… why this sudden happiness? Now, if I had fallen in love, if I'd had a stroke of luck, if my work and everything else were going smoothly—why, then there'd be nothing to wonder at. But this groundless feeling, when in the midst of a black, hopeless mood your heart suddenly quivers and beats with joy, so that afterwards you remember...
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SOURCE: “The Human Russia,” in Modern Age: A Quarterly Review, Vol. 8, No. 3, Summer, 1964, pp. 327-28.
[In the following laudatory review of Going to Town, Wasiolek maintains that “Kazakov expresses eloquently the mute gestures that speak of the heart's wild hopes and its quiet pains.”]
There is in this collection of Yuri Kazakov's stories [Going to Town and Other Stories] a bit of what has burdened the pages of much Soviet literature: simplifications at the service of crude ideology. An abstractionist painter is shown to be selfish, self-justifying, and incapable of love; a holy beggar to be a glutton, hypocrite, and lecher; a landlady, who is an Old Believer, to be cunning, deceitful, and cruel.
But there isn't too much of it. For the most part Yuri Kazakov sees the world through the interestices of ideology, and what he sees is fresh, lyrical, and good. It is a world of wet meadows, spinning reels, rucksacks, morning fogs, the smell of wet leaves, the unknown bends of rivers, tendrils of mist, and the bittersweet scent of fall woods. It is a world that is forever replenished and forever fresh, and Kazakov paints it with love and fidelity. Against this background he writes of lives and of people as unchanging and real as the natural world they live in. His tales are glimpses into the joys and sorrows of small people: fishermen, young girls, adolescents, hunters,...
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SOURCE: “Yurii Kazakov,” in Major Soviet Writers: Essays in Criticism, edited by Edward J. Brown, Oxford University Press, 1973, pp. 321-32.
[In the following essay, originally published in 1964 as the introduction to Selected Short Stories, Gibian surveys the defining characteristics of Kazakov's fiction and praises their novelty and modernity in light of his time and setting.]
Despite the slimness of his works, Yurii Kazakov has already become an author watched by those Russians who are most keenly interested in contemporary fiction. He has not yet won such a mass following as that of Konstantin Simonov: his works do not compare in breadth (and, one might add, poundage) with Mikhail Sholokhov's, nor has Kazakov established himself as a widely known public figure. But he is being read with intense interest, especially in literary and intellectual circles, and his followers regard him as an unusual, perhaps unique, writer on the Soviet literary scene today. Working slowly but steadily, he has composed stories of rare excellence, a quality in short supply in the literature of any age and country.
Yurii Kazakov was born in 1927, and since 1953, when his sketches first appeared in the pages of Russian monthly magazines, he has published a little more than twenty stories and several journalistic accounts of his travels along the shores of the White Sea, the region in which...
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SOURCE: “Russian Pastorale: Kazakov,” in Russian Writers: Notes and Essays, Random House, 1971, pp. 354-58.
[In the following review, originally published in The New York Review of Books in 1964, Muchnic offers a positive assessment of Going to Town and discusses Kazakov's place in Soviet literature.]
The title story of this collection [Going to Town and Other Stories] is a rather grim sketch of a carpenter who leaves the country to take his sick wife to Moscow. He is sure she will die there and hopes she will, for he has long since stopped caring for her and she has prevented his settling in the city. They drive off in their cart, she, tears streaming down her “hollow cheeks,” gazing on the countryside she loves, where she has spent her life; he, up front, gay and spruce, a ram's carcass beside him—he has just slaughtered the animal in a brutally efficient way, thinking of how after dropping her off at the hospital and selling the ram in the market, he will go to the station restaurant and, over a light beer, will watch the trains go by, while “a waitress in a white apron and cap will wait on him, the orchestra will play, and there will be the smell of food and the smoke of good cigarettes.” This is what he loves about the city. This is what he means when, getting permission to go, he tells the chairman of his collective farm that he “wants to live.” As for his...
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SOURCE: “Jurij Kazakov: The Pleasures of Isolation,” in The Slavic and East European Journal, Vol. X, 1966, pp. 22-31.
[In the following essay, Kramer analyzes the major thematic concern of Kazakov's short fiction—the theme of isolation.]
No recent Soviet writer has so concentrated his creative energies on one central theme as Jurij Kazakov has; there is hardly a story of his which does not depict a character who has isolated himself from the normal flow of life about him, from ordinary social intercourse. In considering Kazakov's stature as a writer, the question one must resolve is whether his stories represent a form of artistic escape or whether the body of his creative output represents a significant treatment of a major human problem. Do his characters strive for isolation because it is the sine qua non for certain positive values ordinarily unworthy of serious consideration in Soviet literature, or is the theme of isolation merely an attempt to escape from the official problems of Soviet literature and life? To be sure, Kazakov is not the first among even relatively recent Soviet writers who has avoided large-scale social issues in favor of personal problems. Konstantin Paustovskij, for one, has frequently avoided the larger problems of Soviet life. But Paustovskij does this through a literary device—the sentimental story. Kazakov refuses to escape into literary simplification of...
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SOURCE: “Nature and Self in Kazakov,” in The Slavic and East European Journal, Vol. XII, No. 4, Winter, 1968, pp. 397-406.
[In the following essay, Collins considers the themes of nature and isolation in several of Kazakov's stories.]
Both Soviet and Western critics have noted (although not explored) the influence of Turgenev and Bunin, among others, on Jurij Kazakov. In view of Turgenev's use of nature—especially in Otcy i deti—to indicate man's relationship to Self, and of even more complex currents in the works of Bunin,1 it is surprising that Kazakov's themes of nature and Self, of alienation and the overcoming of alienation, have received so little attention by the critics. Few fail to observe that “communion with nature” seems to be important in Kazakov, or that he seems not to care for the “larger issues” of the socio-political life of his nation or world, but such comments, I will argue here, do not touch the most important aspects of Kazakov's work.
The discussion below will focus on eight of Kazakov's stories: “Na ostrove” (1951), “Na polustanke” (1954), “V gorod” (1961), “Arktur—gončij pes” (1957), “Tèddi” (1956), “Osen' v dubovyx lesax” (1961), “Adam i Eva” (1962), and “Zapax xleba” (1961). This selection includes his two longest stories, one of his earliest, his two most frequently published, and several...
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SOURCE: “Iurii Kazakov: Overview,” in Reference Guide to Short Fiction, edited by Noelle Watson, St. James Press, 1994.
[In the following essay, Pursglove provides a brief overview of Kazakov's short fiction, describing it as “allusive, ambiguous, and open-ended,” the opposite of much Stalinist prose writing of years previous.]
Iurii Kazakov published no more than 35 short stories in all, and yet this small corpus of work epitomizes the literature of the post-Stalin “Thaw” period, ushered in by Khrushchev's secret speech to the 20th Party Congress in February 1956. The mere act of writing a short story represented a major change; Stalinist prose writing had been dominated by long novels with “positive” heroes and enough space for the author to tie up all ideological loose ends. Kazakov's stories are the very reverse of this—allusive, ambiguous, and open-ended. His heroes and heroines are indecisive, unsure, vulnerable, and isolated, both physically and emotionally. They include a buoy-keeper on a Northern river (Yegor in “Fiddle Faddle,” a post girl on the White Sea (“Manka”), a blind dog (“Arkur—gonchii pes” [“Arcturus, The Hunting Dog”]), a plain provincial school teacher (“The Plain Girl”), and the ailing Chekhov, compelled to live apart from his wife in Yalta (“That Accursed North”). Like Chekhov, whom he acknowledged as a major influence on his work,...
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Conley, John. “A Clutch of Fifteen.” The Southern Review 3, No. 3 (1967): 776-87.
Calls the stories in Going to Town “firmly realistic and unpretentious.”
Heins, Paul. “Spring Booklist.” The Horn Book Magazine XLIV, No. 3, June, 1968, pp. 324-25.
Positive assessment of Arcturus the Hunting Hound and Other Stories.
Nightingale, Benedict. “A Season's Stories.” The Manchester Guardian Weekly 93, No. 18 (4 November 1965): 11.
Applauds the realism and nonjudgmental nature of the stories in The Smell of Bread.
Additional coverage of Kazakov's life and career is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group: Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8R; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 36; and Major 20th-Century Writers, Vol. 1.
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