Andrei Sinyavsky Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Andrei Donatovich Sinyavsky (sihn-YOV-skee) was the godfather of the post-Stalin renaissance in Russian literature. Born on October 8, 1925, into the family of an ineffectual radical idealist, Sinyavsky was reared as a true believer in the Communist system. Although well-educated, his parents held menial white-collar jobs. In his late teens Sinyavsky served in the Soviet army. Demobilized, he entered Moscow University in 1947, where he defended his dissertation on Maxim Gorky, the father of Socialist Realism, in 1952. Two friendships of his student years would have enormous consequences for Sinyavsky: Hélène Pelletier, the daughter of the French naval attaché who was permitted to attend Moscow University, and Yuli Daniel, whose bohemian apartment became a center for young intellectuals. Soon after graduation Sinyavsky was married to Mariya Rozanova, a student of art history. Although Sinyavsky had acquired some exposure to Western literature and art, he remained a fervent believer in the moral integrity of the Communist system. The first doubt arose when his father was arrested in 1951 on preposterous charges. In the early 1950’s Sinyavsky worked as a lecturer at Moscow University and then as a researcher at the Institute of World Literature. His articles were bringing him a degree of renown, but he wished to write fiction as well. Sinyavsky’s first story, “At the Circus” (1955), already reflects his love of the phantasmagoric and his persistent identification of the artist with the criminal.{$S[A]Tertz, Abram;Sinyavsky, Andrei}

Nikita Khrushchev’s historic 1956 denunciation of Stalin’s twenty-year reign of terror shattered Sinyavsky’s illusions. His new friendship with Boris Pasternak, who had sent his suppressed novel, Doctor Zhivago (1957), abroad, perhaps inspired him to ask Pelletier to smuggle his work abroad for publication. Under the pseudonym Abram Tertz, two long works appeared in France in 1959: a theoretical essay, On Socialist Realism, decrying the sterility of Socialist Realism and calling for a new “phantasmagoric” literature, and a novella, The Trial Begins, which illustrated the essay’s literary thesis and was a powerful indictment of the Stalinist dictum that the end justifies the means. In 1961, his story collection Fantastic Stories appeared in the West, followed two years later by The Makepeace Experiment, an antiutopian political fantasy. Sinyavsky’s reflections on many themes, especially religious ones, appeared in a collection of aphoristic notes entitled Unguarded Thoughts. These Western publications...

(The entire section is 1070 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

By the time he was in his early forties, Andrei Donatovich Sinyavsky had achieved a large measure of success within Soviet society. Born and reared in Moscow, he attended Moscow University, from which he received the Soviet equivalent of a doctorate in 1952. His thesis was on Maxim Gorky, often considered the “father” of Socialist Realism. He then received a position at the Gorky Institute of World Literature, a branch of the Soviet Academy of Sciences; during the next dozen years, he published several studies on Gorky and also wrote about twentieth century poetry. At the end of the 1950’s, he began to publish reviews in the prestigious literary journal Novy mir, aligning himself with those struggling for greater artistic freedom through his attacks on some of the more conservative writers. Still, his name was not widely known until he published the introductory essay to a major 1965 collection of Boris Pasternak’s poetry (translated in For Freedom of Imagination, 1971).

Later that same year, much to the surprise of nearly everyone, he and a close friend, Yuli Daniel, were arrested; employing the pseudonyms Abram Tertz (the rogue hero of a thieves’ song once popular in Odessa) and Nikolai Arzhak, respectively, each had smuggled out stories to the West that were seen by the authorities as examples of “anti-Soviet propaganda.” Their trial, in February of 1966, was significant in that it was the first time that Soviet writers were actually convicted of a crime on the basis of their literary works. It also marked the end of the fitful liberalizing tendencies that...

(The entire section is 655 words.)