Vassily Pavlovich Aksyonov, the son of Pavel Vassilievich and Evgenia Semyonovna (Ginzburg) Aksyonov, was born on August 20, 1932, in Kazan, a provincial city of the Soviet Union. Almost from the beginning, he was at odds with the Soviet government. Both his parents were arrested as enemies of the people during the Great Purges. His father was shot, and his mother was sentenced to hard labor in the prison camps of Siberia, leaving him effectively an orphan. He was placed in an institution for the children of enemies of the state, where he remained until relatives retrieved him.
When he was a teenager, his mother was released from the prison camp to begin a period of internal exile in the remote Magadan region. She managed to locate her son and bring him to her place of exile, where they made a precarious life for themselves. Young Aksyonov learned not to cry in the face of indignities heaped on him and his mother by drunken state security personnel, and his experiences while in exile both forged his unyielding moral character and sparked his interest in writing.
However, his formal education was as a physician, and his medical experience was the basis of his first novel, Kollegi (1961; Colleagues, 1962), which was published during the height of the thaw, a period of cultural liberalization under Nikita Khrushchev. Over the next several years, Aksyonov established his literary reputation with additional novels, short stories, and his play Vsegda v prodazhe (always on sale), which was staged in Moscow at the Sovremennik Theater in 1965.
After Khrushchev’s fall, the political climate turned more doctrinaire, and Aksyonov shared the fate of many Soviet writers of conscience. He found it steadily more difficult to publish, until he compared himself to an iceberg, his published works only a small portion of his total literary works. In 1979 he joined twenty-two other writers in challenging Soviet censorship by requesting that an anthology of their banned works be published. It resulted in his being stripped of his Soviet citizenship and hounded into emigrating to the United States.
Aksyonov traveled and lectured throughout the United States and Western Europe, eventually making Washington, D.C., his base. Even in exile, he remained prolific, drawing on memory to work away from his native land. In 1990, following the breakup of the Soviet Union, Aksyonov’s Russian citizenship was restored. However, unlike such writers as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, he did not return to Russia immediately. Instead he remained in the United States, where he became the Clarence Robinson Professor in Slavic studies at George Mason University, a leading conservative university with a strong classical-liberal emphasis, located in Fairfax, Virginia. Late in his life, Askyonov did spend most of his time in Russia. He died in Moscow on July 6, 2009. He was 76.
Vassily Pavlovich Aksyonov was born in Kazan, Russia, on August 20, 1932. His parents, both committed Communists, were falsely arrested as “enemies of the people” in 1937. The future writer rejoined his freed mother and stepfather, a Catholic doctor-prisoner, in Siberia at age seventeen. Because “it’s easier for doctors in the camps,” it was decided that Aksyonov would attend medical school in Leningrad, from which he graduated in 1956, the year in which Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev denounced the crimes of Stalin. Taking advantage of the cultural “thaw,” the young practitioner began writing. After his successful first novel, Colleagues, was published in 1960, Aksyonov turned to full-time writing. The early “optimistic” period of his career came to an end on March 8, 1963, when Khrushchev himself publicly demanded recantation of his work. Publication became increasingly difficult, especially after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, but Aksyonov was permitted to accept a one-term Regents’ Lectureship at the University of California at Los Angeles in 1975.
In the late 1970’s, Aksyonov...
(The entire section is 1,874 words.)