Yuri Kazakov Essay - Critical Essays

Kazakov, Yuri


Yuri Kazakov 1927-1982

(Born Yuri Pavlovich Kazakov; also transliterated as Yury, Yurii, Iurii, Jurij, or Yuriy) Russian short fiction writer.

Kazakov is viewed as one of the more important Soviet authors to emerge from the post-Stalin period. His short stories were a decided change from the long, ideological novels that were being written at that time. Critics have often compared his work to that of Anton Chekhov.

Biographical Information

Kazakov was born in Moscow in 1927. His parents were from the Russian provinces and instilled in him a love of the rural areas of the country, particularly the area along the White Sea coast. In fact, the contrast between the city and the country would become a recurring theme in his work. He began to study music in 1944 and entered the Gnesin Music School in 1946; he would later teach in music schools and play in different orchestras and musical groups. In 1953 he entered the Institute of Literature, graduating five years later. He began to write and publish stories in Soviet periodicals while a student. When a prestigious Soviet literary critic, Konstantin Paustovskii, published an article in The Literary Gazette praising Kazakov's work, a controversy erupted among older, more conventional authors who felt that Kazakov's fiction was pessimistic and not ideologically acceptable. In his later years, he primarily wrote children's stories. He died in 1982.

Major Works of Short Fiction

Kazakov's stories are short and deal with events in the lives of ordinary people. Several of his stories deal with animals and the natural world. His best-known story is “Arcturus, a Hunting Dog.” In a small northern town, a blind dog lives a difficult life scavenging food from garbage dumps. One day a lonely, widowed doctor takes the filthy and tired animal home and cleans him up. The dog stays, and the doctor names him after the evening star, Arcturus. The dog and his master form a strong bond. The doctor takes Arcturus on long walks in the forest and discovers that the blind dog has remarkable hunting instincts. Soon the dog's fame spreads all over the region and the doctor is offered large amounts of money for Arcturus, but the man refuses. Tragically, one day the dog fails to return from the forest. Years later the doctor finds a rusted collar hanging from a branch; the blind dog had apparently impaled himself. Another group of stories concerns the lives of men and women who isolate themselves from society. For example, the protagonist of “An Easy Life” is a peripatetic worker who avoids responsibility and contact with others. He is vaguely troubled by his lack of emotional connection with people and his resulting spiritual emptiness. The autobiographical “Adam and Eve” focuses on a Soviet artist at odds with the prevailing literary establishment. He struggles to deal with his stalled career as well as his own self-destructive actions.

Critical Reception

Kazakov's work is noted for his compassionate portrayal of downtrodden and ordinary characters, as well as the precision and lyrical nature of his language. His deft contrast between urban and provincial life has been discussed as a recurring theme in his work. Some reviewers contend that many of Kazakov's stories are limited in scope and show no development or resolution. During his lifetime, Soviet literary critics derided his stories for their pessimistic tone and lack of ideological heroes. Although his work is thought to invoke such nineteenth-century Russian authors as Ivan Turgenev, Leo Tolstoy, and Anton Chekhov, many scholars perceive Kazakov as a transitional writer, as he represents an important break from the Soviet literature of the early twentieth century.

Principal Works

Man'ka 1958

Na polustanke 1959

Po Dorage (stories and a sketch) 1961

Goluboe: Zelenoe (stories and sketches) 1963

Legkaia zhizn [An Easy Life] 1963

Going to Town, and Other Stories 1964

Selected Short Stories 1964

Zapakh khleba [The Smell of Bread, and Other Stories] 1965

Arcturus the Hunting Hound, and Other Stories 1968


Galina Kornilova (review date 1964)

SOURCE: A review of An Easy Life, in Soviet Literature, Vol. 1, 1964, pp. 188-89.

[In the following essay, Kornilova outlines the defining characteristics of the stories comprising An Easy Life.]

Yuri Kazakov's stories are about ordinary things and ordinary people. There is nothing special about the people, nothing dramatic happens to them. His inspector Zubavin, whose job involves a lot of travelling, is again off on one of his missions; mechanic Kudryavtsev is returning empty-handed after a day's hunting, collective-farm club manager Zhukov is walking across a field after a hard day that has brought him one vexation after another. Each has only the usual round of dull cares to look forward to. But suddenly, surprisingly, “for no good reason,” each is overwhelmed by a deep sense of happiness. With one it is brought on at sight of a fog veiling the stars, with another by the glow of a distant campfire, with a third by the nocturnal breath of the forest and the smell of a river. Overtaken by it, mechanic Kudryavtsev wonders:

… why this sudden happiness? Now, if I had fallen in love, if I'd had a stroke of luck, if my work and everything else were going smoothly—why, then there'd be nothing to wonder at. But this groundless feeling, when in the midst of a black, hopeless mood your heart suddenly quivers and beats with joy, so that afterwards you remember the moment for a long time.

Kudryavtsev and the others experience this “groundless” joy because it is given to them, modest, ordinary people to feel and appreciate the beauty of nature, because they have an awareness of the pulsing of life in the autumnal fields, the dark forest, the damp ravines. And this awareness is complemented by an ability to understand people and feel with them, to respond sensitively to their joys and cares and thus to spread happiness about them. Their moment of heightened awareness of nature's...

(The entire section is 828 words.)

Edward Wasiolek (review date 1964)

SOURCE: “The Human Russia,” in Modern Age: A Quarterly Review, Vol. 8, No. 3, Summer, 1964, pp. 327-28.

[In the following laudatory review of Going to Town, Wasiolek maintains that “Kazakov expresses eloquently the mute gestures that speak of the heart's wild hopes and its quiet pains.”]

There is in this collection of Yuri Kazakov's stories [Going to Town and Other Stories] a bit of what has burdened the pages of much Soviet literature: simplifications at the service of crude ideology. An abstractionist painter is shown to be selfish, self-justifying, and incapable of love; a holy beggar to be a glutton, hypocrite, and lecher; a landlady, who is...

(The entire section is 667 words.)

George Gibian (essay date 1964)

SOURCE: “Yurii Kazakov,” in Major Soviet Writers: Essays in Criticism, edited by Edward J. Brown, Oxford University Press, 1973, pp. 321-32.

[In the following essay, originally published in 1964 as the introduction to Selected Short Stories, Gibian surveys the defining characteristics of Kazakov's fiction and praises their novelty and modernity in light of his time and setting.]

Despite the slimness of his works, Yurii Kazakov has already become an author watched by those Russians who are most keenly interested in contemporary fiction. He has not yet won such a mass following as that of Konstantin Simonov: his works do not compare in breadth (and, one might...

(The entire section is 4891 words.)

Helen Muchnic (review date 1964)

SOURCE: “Russian Pastorale: Kazakov,” in Russian Writers: Notes and Essays, Random House, 1971, pp. 354-58.

[In the following review, originally published in The New York Review of Books in 1964, Muchnic offers a positive assessment of Going to Town and discusses Kazakov's place in Soviet literature.]

The title story of this collection [Going to Town and Other Stories] is a rather grim sketch of a carpenter who leaves the country to take his sick wife to Moscow. He is sure she will die there and hopes she will, for he has long since stopped caring for her and she has prevented his settling in the city. They drive off in their cart, she, tears...

(The entire section is 1440 words.)

Karl D. Kramer (essay date 1966)

SOURCE: “Jurij Kazakov: The Pleasures of Isolation,” in The Slavic and East European Journal, Vol. X, 1966, pp. 22-31.

[In the following essay, Kramer analyzes the major thematic concern of Kazakov's short fiction—the theme of isolation.]

No recent Soviet writer has so concentrated his creative energies on one central theme as Jurij Kazakov has; there is hardly a story of his which does not depict a character who has isolated himself from the normal flow of life about him, from ordinary social intercourse. In considering Kazakov's stature as a writer, the question one must resolve is whether his stories represent a form of artistic escape or whether the body of...

(The entire section is 5061 words.)

Christopher Collins (essay date 1968)

SOURCE: “Nature and Self in Kazakov,” in The Slavic and East European Journal, Vol. XII, No. 4, Winter, 1968, pp. 397-406.

[In the following essay, Collins considers the themes of nature and isolation in several of Kazakov's stories.]

Both Soviet and Western critics have noted (although not explored) the influence of Turgenev and Bunin, among others, on Jurij Kazakov. In view of Turgenev's use of nature—especially in Otcy i deti—to indicate man's relationship to Self, and of even more complex currents in the works of Bunin,1 it is surprising that Kazakov's themes of nature and Self, of alienation and the overcoming of alienation, have received...

(The entire section is 7216 words.)

Michael Pursglove (essay date 1994)

SOURCE: “Iurii Kazakov: Overview,” in Reference Guide to Short Fiction, edited by Noelle Watson, St. James Press, 1994.

[In the following essay, Pursglove provides a brief overview of Kazakov's short fiction, describing it as “allusive, ambiguous, and open-ended,” the opposite of much Stalinist prose writing of years previous.]

Iurii Kazakov published no more than 35 short stories in all, and yet this small corpus of work epitomizes the literature of the post-Stalin “Thaw” period, ushered in by Khrushchev's secret speech to the 20th Party Congress in February 1956. The mere act of writing a short story represented a major change; Stalinist prose writing had...

(The entire section is 806 words.)

Further Reading


Conley, John. “A Clutch of Fifteen.” The Southern Review 3, No. 3 (1967): 776-87.

Calls the stories in Going to Town “firmly realistic and unpretentious.”

Heins, Paul. “Spring Booklist.” The Horn Book Magazine XLIV, No. 3, June, 1968, pp. 324-25.

Positive assessment of Arcturus the Hunting Hound and Other Stories.

Nightingale, Benedict. “A Season's Stories.” The Manchester Guardian Weekly 93, No. 18 (4 November 1965): 11.

Applauds the realism and nonjudgmental nature of the stories in The Smell of Bread.


(The entire section is 105 words.)