Sergei Dovlatov Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Sergei Dovlatov was a respected journalist in his native country before being forced to emigrate. He also published in several Soviet underground journals. His major works are all entitled “novels,” although they read much more like short-story collections. His “considerable talent” is cited by The Christian Science Monitor as “best suited to the short story and the sketch.” Dovlatov was also an editor, a contributor, and a cofounder of New American, a newspaper expressly for Russian émigrés.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Dovlatov is primarily recognized as one voice among a bevy of Soviet emigrant writers that includes Joseph Brodsky, Edward Limonov, Vassily Aksyonov, Yuz Aleshkovsky, Vladimir Voinovich, and Dmitri Savitsky, compatriots in the fact that they either were not published in their native homeland or were defamed in Soviet Russia as potential enemies of the state. In addition to cofounding New American, Dovlatov focused his attention on the intrinsic problem of the Soviet writer: the forced choice between country and intellectual freedom. Contemporary Authors quotes Dovlatov as stating, “I can live in freedom without my native land, but I’m physically incapable of living without freedom.” He was a member of the International Association of Poets, Playwrights, Editors, Essayists, and Novelists (PEN).


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Grimes, William. “A Novel of Crime and Freezing Punishment in Russia.” The Christian Science Monitor, January 21, 1986, p. 26. An insightful glimpse into Dovlatov’s style and intent in his novel The Zone: A Prison Camp Guard’s Story. Although The Zone is a moving account of prison life, Grimes states that the book is not too disheartening: “It would take more than prison to blunt Dovlatov’s comic edge.”

Prescott, Peter S. “Actors, Uncles, Existentialists.” Review of Ours: A Russian Family Album. Newsweek, April 24, 1989, 26. In this brief review, Prescott selects a few of the book’s characters who demonstrate human failings and shows Dovlatov’s compassion in regard to their actions and his uneasiness in regard to the Party and the state.

Shragin, Boris, et al. “Writers in Exile: A Conference of Soviet and East European Dissidents.” Partisan Review 50, no. 4 (1983): 487-525. A discussion of dissident writers including Dovlatov, Boris Shragin, Stanisaw Baránczak, Erazim V. Kohak, Yuz Aleshkovsky, and others.

“Soviet Émigrés.” The Christian Science Monitor, October 2, 1987. A discussion of Dovlatov’s position on glasnost and perestroika in terms of the reasons why he and Soviet émigrés are not published in the Soviet Union. Despite the literary freedoms that followed glasnost, Dovlatov believes that the outlook for Soviet émigré writers is not too positive and that total glasnost cannot be achieved by a state controlled by one party.

Toker, Leona. Return from the Archipelago: Narratives of Gulag Survivors. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000. Dovlatov is included in this study of politically dissident Soviet writers.

Young, Jekaterina. “Dovlatov’s Compromise: Journalism, Fiction, and Commentary.” Slavonica 6, no. 1 (2000): 44-68. Analysis of Dovlatov’s anthology The Compromise focuses on the role of the Soviet press in ideological struggle.