After his emigration from the Soviet Union to the United States in 1979 and the publication of his works by American and French publishers (beginning with Ardis’s publication of Nikolai Nikolaevich in 1980), Yuz Aleshkovsky (uhl-yihsh-KAWF-skee), born Joseph Aleshkovsky, became a leading writer among Russian émigrés. In the Soviet Union, his best-known works were the anti-Stalinist songs he wrote when he was in prison in the early 1950’s. These songs entered into Russian popular culture and are known by millions. Until the spring of 1989, however, when Novy mir published a collection of these songs under Aleshkovsky’s name, most people considered them to be anonymous folk songs. The children’s stories and novels that Aleshkovsky published while a member of the Writers’ Union in the 1960’s and 1970’s are also quite well known to the general reading public in his homeland. His adult novels, none of which were published in the Soviet Union, earned him recognition among the educated elite. These novels are noted for their comic, earthy, obscene style of narration and for fantastic, picaresque plots in which a roguish hero/narrator tells how he has used his underworld skills to survive the Stalin years between the late 1920’s and the 1950’s.
Although he was born into an educated Moscow family in which it was expected that he would pursue a higher education, young Aleshkovsky rebelled against such conventions. He left high school in Moscow at the end of World War II after throwing a brick through the school director’s window. He worked at various factory jobs during the late 1940’s before being drafted into the navy. In 1950, he rebelled against the military authorities and was sentenced to prison for insubordination (charges included stealing his commanding officer’s car). Released from prison one year early during the general amnesty of prisoners after Joseph Stalin’s death in 1953, Aleshkovsky became a truck driver and began writing stories for children. He published his first story in 1955 and became a professional writer and member of the Writers’ Union in 1963, writing stories for children and scripts for television and films during the 1960’s and 1970’s.
At the end of the 1970’s, Aleshkovsky collaborated with a number of other Moscow writers to arrange the samizdat publication of Metropol, a collection of prose and poetry that had not been approved by the censors. Soon after the authorities attacked him for his role in samizdat, in 1979, Aleshkovsky emigrated to the United States, settling in Middletown, Connecticut, with his...
(The entire section is 1068 words.)