Sasha Sokolov Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Sasha Aleksandr Vsevolodovich Sokolov (SUH-kohl-uhv) was the most critically acclaimed writer to appear on the Russian literary scene during the 1970’s and 1980’s. He was born in Ottawa, Canada, where his father was a Soviet military diplomat until forced to return to Moscow following an espionage scandal. There the young Sokolov drifted through an unsatisfactory career in the public schools before, in 1962, entering the Military Institute of Foreign Languages. Army life was not to his liking, and he ended first in jail for being absent without leave and then in a mental hospital as part of a ploy to gain his military discharge.

After a period living on the fringes of Moscow’s literary bohemia, Sokolov entered the journalism department at Moscow State University. Upon completing an internship on a provincial newspaper, he returned to the capital, where he worked for Literary Russia. When he received his university degree in 1971, Sokolov left Moscow for a job as a gamekeeper on the remote upper Volga. Here, over a two-year period, he completed A School for Fools, a modernist tour de force that then had little chance of appearing in the Soviet Union. Smuggled abroad with the help of an Austrian friend whom Sokolov subsequently married, the novella appeared in the United States in 1976. Growing out of Sokolov’s youthful encounters with Soviet institutions and the sheer dreariness and duplicity of Soviet life, the work depicts that world through the innocent eyes of its schizophrenic narrator, a student at a “special” school. Translated into several languages, A School for Fools became the only novel by a living Russian author to win the praise of Vladimir Nabokov.

While the novel was making its way toward publication abroad, Sokolov launched a campaign to emigrate, which brought him into conflict with the government. Following a hunger strike and extensive publicity, he was allowed to join his bride-to-be in Vienna in late 1975. One year later he arrived in North America, where he was able to claim his Canadian citizenship. While still in Russia, Sokolov had started a novel based upon an unsolved murder he had heard about during his years as a gamekeeper. Many critics considered Mezhdu sobakoi i volkom (between dog and wolf) a novel of startling originality and daring. Its metaphorical title refers to twilight, when the normally distinct becomes blurred. The plot emerges from the drunken narrator’s inability to distinguish between a real dog and wolf—a failure that...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Beraha, Laura. “The Last Rogue of History: Picaresque Elements in Sasha Sokolov’s Palisandriia.” Canadian Slavonic Papers 35, nos. 3/4 (1993). Discusses Sokolov’s attack on historical and self-referential narrative through the structure of his novel.

Boguslawski, Alexander. “Sokolov’s A School for Fools: An Escape from Socialist Realism.” Slavic and East European Journal 27 (1983). A good discussion of A School for Fools.

Canadian-American Slavic Studies 22, nos. 1/2 (1988). A special Sokolov issue. An extensive literary biography and a bibliography of works by and about Sokolov, as well as essays on many aspects of Sokolov’s work.

Johnson, D. Barton. “Sasha Sokolov: The New Russian Avant-Garde.” Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 30 (1989). An excellent introductory survey.

Johnson, D. Barton. “Sasha Sokolov’s Between Dog and Wolf and the Modernist Tradition.” In Russian Literature in Emigration: The Third Wave, edited by Olga Matich and Michael Heim. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Ardis, 1984. On the untranslated Mezhdu sobakoi i volkom.

Johnson, D. Barton. “A Structural Analysis of Sasha Sokolov’s School for Fools: A Paradigmatic Novel.” In Fiction and Drama in Eastern and Southeastern Europe: Evolution and Experiment in the Postwar Period, edited by Henrik Birnbaum and Thomas Eekman. Columbus, Ohio: Slavonica, 1980. A theoretically oriented discussion.

Kolb, Hannah. “The Dissolution of Reality in Sasha Sokolov’s Mezhdu sobakoi i volkom.” In Reconstructing the Canon: Russian Writing in the 1980’s, edited by Arnold McMillin. Amsterdam: Harwood Academic, 2000. Discusses Sokolov’s untranslated novel as an example of the unprecedented turn in Russian literature in the late twentieth century.

McMillin, Arnold. “Aberration or the Future: The Avant-Garde Novels of Sasha Sokolov.” In From Pushkin to “Palisandriia”: Essays on the Russian Novel in Honor of Richard Freeborn, edited by McMillin. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990. Assesses Sokolov’s position in influencing the direction of contemporary Russian fiction.

Matich, Olga. “Sasha Sokolov’s Palisandriia: History and Myth.” The Russian Review 45 (1986). Astrophobia is treated.

Porter, Robert. Russia’s Alternative Prose. Providence, R.I.: Berg, 1994. Sokolov is one of several writers discussed.

Simmons, Cynthia. Their Father’s Voice: Vassily Aksyonov, Venedikt Erofeev, Eduard Limonov, and Sasha Sokolov. New York: P. Lang, 1993. Focuses on Sokolov’s oppositional relationship to traditional Russian novel form.