Between 1979 and 1986, Dovlatov published ten books, most of them quite short and all of them written in the first person. None of his books appeared in the Soviet Union, nor could have. His laconic, witty, and humorous style appeals to both Russian and American readers. Certain Russian influences may be discerned in Dovlatov’s writing, but more evident are the compressed style of Ernest Hemingway, the social alienation of J.D. Salinger, and the combined vulgarity and sensitivity of Kurt Vonnegut—writers all widely available in translation in the Soviet Union since the 1960’s.
Dovlatov’s works in English have received excellent reviews. His work has yet to receive more substantial critical attention (except in the Russian emigre press), but his success as a writer in the West was more than assured by the publication of seven stories in The New Yorker between 1980 and 1987—an unprecedented achievement for a Russian emigre writer. It is ironic that the perpetual “bad boy” has received so much attention from an essentially conservative literary magazine. Dovlatov’s true role as a writer is thereby confirmed: to bridge the gap between the Russian and American cultures.