Vasily (Pavlovich) Aksenov Vytas Dukas - Essay

Vytas Dukas

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Although [Ožog] may be labeled "memoirs," since it contains obvious autobiographical material, in reality it is more than that, containing numerous literary and fictional qualities.

In Ožog Aksyonov shows us that he is an excellent student of Gogol, Dostoevsky and Bulgakov in Russia and of Hemingway, Faulkner and Salinger in the USA. His language is rich and innovative. The novel, despite its many references to current events, borders on magic realism…. Aksyonov constantly exposes anti-Semitism, bureaucracy, injustice, abuses by the KGB and the corrupt Soviet state. In his revelations Aksyonov persistently makes fun of the entire Soviet Union. He makes satirical use of Blok's verse as the motto of the novel: "That only a boor (xam) could make fun of, and insult, Russian life."… The political satire reaches a crescendo when the Red Army tanks roll over Czechoslovakia. The author affects an inability to understand how the young Red Army soldiers could commit crimes in Czechoslovakia, since, after all, they have read his story "The Overloaded Packing Barrels." A subsequent scene depicting a Czech girl on a rainy day ends in her death "through the courtesy" of a Red Army sergeant who is quicker with his submachine gun than the girl is in opening her umbrella. As the author witnesses the atrocities, he wonders: what is God doing tonight? But then one of the tanks keeps on rolling westward, and some 150 kilometers farther one crew member is amazed that there aren't any statues of Lenin.

Aksyonov writes eloquently and expressively; he uses colloquial language and a variety of jargon. He treats sex à la Henry Miller—explicitly and extensively. Aksyonov, however, creates his own narrative. His vibrant prose contains such poetic devices as repetition and alliteration, and within the novel are many poems worthy of today's best Russian bards.

Vytas Dukas, "Fiction: 'Ožog'," in World Literature Today (copyright 1981 by the University of Oklahoma Press), Vol. 55, No. 3, Summer, 1981, p. 492.