Valentin Rasputin

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(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Valentin Rasputin was born on March 15, 1937, in central Siberia, in Ust’-Uda, a small village on the Angara River, halfway between Irkutsk and Bratsk. His parents were peasants. During much of his childhood, most of which fell during and shortly after World War II, his father was away at war. After finishing elementary and high school, Rasputin enrolled at Irkutsk University to be a teacher. Before he was graduated in 1959, he started working as a journalist for the local newspaper and continued to work in that capacity after moving to Krasnoyarsk.

Rasputin published his first story, “Ia zabyl sprosit’ u Lioshki” (“I Forgot to Ask Lyoshka”), in 1961, and his first novella, Krai vozle samogo neba (the land next to the very sky), in 1966. Between those two years, he traveled as a newspaper correspondent, covering a wide area and meeting many interesting people. These experiences served him well as sources for his stories. In 1968, he published another book as well as his first longer story, Money for Maria, venturing into the novella—a genre that would become his main mode of expression. The same year he was admitted to the Union of Soviet Writers, usually a sign that a writer “has arrived.” Three more novellas followed in the next ten yearsBorrowed Time, Live and Remember, and Farewell to Matyora—along with a number of short stories. In 1977, he received the State Prize for Literature in recognition of his contribution to Russian literature.

A serious accident in 1980 sidelined him for a while. He was mugged on a street in Irkutsk by four men demanding his jeans, and he underwent two operations in Moscow, having suffered a temporary loss of memory. After recuperation, he continued to publish, but at a slower pace. An introspective story, “Chto peredat’ vorone?” (“What Shall I Tell the Crow?”), along with several other stories and a book, You Live and Love, and Other Stories, were published in the early 1980’s. A later novella, Pozhar, was published in 1985.

Rasputin is a private man, reluctant to speak about himself. For that reason, not much is known about his private life. The best sources for his biography are his stories, especially those about his childhood. He continues to live in Irkutsk, spending his summers in his dacha on Lake Baikal.