Vasily (Pavlovich) Aksenov Walter F. Kolonosky - Essay

Walter F. Kolonosky

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

For almost twenty years Aksyonov has been one of the most popular writers in Soviet Russia. In the early 1960s he became a leading representative of a movement which was called "youth prose." His second novella, "Starry Ticket," which focused upon a group of Moscow dropouts seeking fun around the Baltic, created a sensation, as well as a scandal. While he was hailed as a sensitive spokesman of the young generation, he was criticized for portraying this generation as a group of stiljagi….

Although Aksyonov is an established author, he is also a developing writer. At forty-eight he continues to experiment with levels of language and narrative devices. His latest novel [Zolotaja naša železka] is an example of experimental prose—namely, playful prose. The title refers to a town in Siberia, the site of a research institute. It also refers to the quality of a piece of ferrous metal. At one level the title suggests that ferrous metal is golden. At another level it suggests that the town of Ironburg is precious. The plot, which unfolds according to a number of narrators and anti-narrators, concerns return trips to Ironburg, where several nuclear physicists search for a mysterious particle. Through flashbacks the reader becomes acquainted with the establishment and development of Ironburg. The reader also becomes acquainted with the half-fantastic and half-realistic "hero" Kitousov and his flirtatious wife Rita, not to mention Memozov, a young avant-garde writer.

It is not the plot, but rather Aksyonov's manner of exposition which is striking. In addition to orchestrating a shifting point of view, Aksyonov enriches his story with crisp dialogues, drawings, diagrams, equations, letters and poetry. At times he is a stylistic genius, combining words from several languages, teasing Russian syllables into harmonic intervals or into tongue-twisting cacophony. Rather than calling Aksyonov a master of wordplay, it would be fitting to dub him a verbal engineer. It would also be fitting to say that his new novel is not aimed at a general Russian-speaking audience. Anyone who is still looking for shades of J. D. Salinger in Aksyonov will be surprised by this genuine contribution to the literature of the absurd.

Walter F. Kolonosky, "Russian: 'Zolotaja naša železka'," in World Literature Today (copyright 1981 by the University of Oklahoma Press), Vol. 55, No. 2, Spring, 1981, p. 337.