Vassily Aksyonov Analysis

Other Literary Forms

Although Vassily Aksyonov wrote five plays, he was actually more widely known for his prose works, in particular his novels. These range from the historical realism of Voina i tiurma (1993; Generations of Winter, 1994), a harsh look at the effects of Stalinism on a physician, to the satirical alternate history of Ostrov Krym (1981; The Island of Crimea, 1983), which features a Crimean peninsula with its narrow land bridge broken, freed to explore capitalist democracy.

Aksyonov also wrote numerous short stories and several screenplays, as well as a fictionalized travelogue, Kruglye sutki: Non-stop (1976), based on his experiences as a visiting professor at the University of California in Los Angeles in the 1970’s. His autobiography Vpoiskakh grustnogo bebi (1987; In Search of Melancholy Baby, 1987) simultaneously celebrates the freedom of American society and mourns the loss of Americans’ moral fiber. He served as an editor for the literary journal Youth and the anthology Metropol.

Achievements

Vassily Aksyonov was well recognized for his works. In 1967 he received a Golden Prize in the International Competition of Satirical Authors in Bulgaria. In 1982 he was made a fellow of the Woodrow Wilson International Center. He was also made a member of the French, Swedish, and Danish chapters of the International Association of Poets, Playwrights, Editors, Essayists, and Novelists (PENs).

Other literary forms

Vassily Aksyonov (uhk-SYUH-nuhv) was primarily a novelist, but he also worked in many other genres. As a young Soviet writer, he produced short stories in the 1960’s that were enormously popular among Russian readers. He was also the author of numerous Russian film scripts and several plays, of which the best is Tsaplya (pb. 1979; The Heron, 1987). Children’s books and a fictionalized biography, Lyubov k elektrichestvu (1971; love for electricity), are also found in his oeuvre. His travel writings, especially Kruglye sutki: Non-stop (1976; around the clock nonstop), a collage account of a visit to the United States, are a remarkable blend of fantasy and reportage. A steady stream of diverse journalism also came from his pen, particularly after his emigration to the United States.

Achievements

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Vassily Aksyonov holds a unique position in modern Russian literature. From the early 1930’s until the death of dictator Joseph Stalin in 1953, Soviet literature stagnated under the official aesthetic doctrine of Socialist Realism. Aksyonov, as a controversial leader of the “young prose” movement in the post-Stalin period, revitalized Russian prose by introducing fresh themes, characters, and living speech into his work. He was an idol of and spokesman for the new generation of young Soviet technocrats, who dreamed of a Western-oriented humanist socialism. As the dream dimmed, Aksyonov was forced to turn to “writing for the drawer,” knowing his work could not be published in the Soviet Union. These new works, increasingly surrealistic, detailed the disillusion of the young intelligentsia. Published in the West only after Aksyonov’s emigration, they confirm his reputation as the preeminent chronicler of his generation as well as its most innovative literary stylist.

Bibliography

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Dalgard, Per. Function of the Grotesque in Vasilij Aksenov. Translated by Robert Porter. Århus, Denmark: Arkona, 1982. Discusses how Aksyonov portrays commonplace things and events as grotesque or ridiculous, often as a method of social criticism.

Kustanovich, Konstantin. The Artist and the Tyrant: Vassily Aksenov’s Works in the Brezhnev Era. Columbus, Ohio: Slavica, 1992. In-depth study examines how Aksyonov uses satirical and fantastical motifs to criticize the failings and evils of the Soviet regime. Includes analysis that compares motifs found in Aksyonov’s plays with those in his prose works.

Lowe, David. “E. Ginzburg’s Krutoj marsrut and V. Aksenov’s Ozog: The Magadan Connection.” Slavic and East European Journal 27 (Summer, 1983). Examines the biographical connections between Aksyonov’s The Burn and his mother’s account of her exile.

Matich, Olga. “Vasilii Aksyonov and the Literature of Convergence: Ostrov Krym as Self-Criticism.” Slavic Review 47, no. 4 (1988). Provides in-depth discussion of The Island of Crimea.

Mozejko, Edward, Boris Briker, and Peter Dalgård, eds. Vasily Pavlovich Aksenov: A Writer in Quest of Himself. Columbus, Ohio: Slavica, 1986. Collection of essays addresses various aspects of Aksyonov’s writing, including his novels.

Proffer, Ellendea. “The Prague Winter: Two Novels by Aksyonov.” In The Third Wave: Russian Literature in Emigration, edited by Olga Matich and Michael Heim. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Ardis, 1984. Essay focusing on The Burn and The Island of Crimea is part of a collection devoted to the works of Russian authors.

Simmons, Cynthia. Their Fathers’ Voice: Vassily Aksyonov, Venedikt Erofeev, Eduard Lemonov, and Sasha Sokolov. New York: Peter Lang, 1994. Compares and contrasts the works of three leading writers of the post-Stalin generation.