Yuri Kazakov Critical Essays


(Short Story Criticism)

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.