Quick Study: Aleksey Varlamov is a prose writer who writes short stories and novels but is probably best known for his biographies of writers, including Aleksey Tolstoy and Mikhail Bulgakov.
The Varlamov File: Aleksey Varlamov was first published in 1987 when a story called “Cockroaches” appeared in the journal October. Varlamov has gone on to publish fiction in numerous other prestigious Russian “thick” journals but he has received particular notice—and popularity—for his detailed biographies of some of Russia’s best Soviet-era writers. The celebrated “Lives of Remarkable People” series includes Varlamov’s books about writers Aleksandr Grin, Mikhail Prishvin, Aleksey Tolstoy, Mikhail Bulgakov, and Andrei Platonov, as well as Grigorii Rasputin. Varlamov’s book about Tolstoy won him a second-place Big Book award in 2007.
Psssst………: When Zakhar Prilepin asked Varlamov in an interview what he dreams of, Varlamov said, “To write my own One Hundred Years of Solitude. But the most important thing would be for everything to be good for children.”… In that same interview, Varlamov said his first book [The House in the Hay Meadow] was published in 1990: it was very thin and the paper was bad but it had an enviable print run of 75,000…
Varlamov’s Places: Born in Moscow, went to Moscow State University, where he studied philology… teaches at the Literary Institute in Moscow… Varlamov was a writer in residence at the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa in 1997…
The Word on Varlamov: In a brief review for Afisha.ru, critic Lev Danilkin wrote that Varlamov’s biography of Aleksey Tolstoy balances psychology and documentary information. “It reads like a novel—maybe not like [Tolstoy’s] The Garin Death Ray—but no worse than Peter the Great.”
Varlamov on Varlamov: When asked in a 2012 interview with the magazine We’re Reading Together about how his worldview has changed, Varlamov said that in his youth he was “more impressionable, more vulnerable. The impressionability has died down a little now but more severity and experience have taken its place, and that has its pluses and minuses. And it’s the reader who has to assess what’s most interesting from a writer: his early things or the later ones. There’s less severity in the early ones but maybe there’s more emotion and artlessness.”
On Writing: In an interview on Echo of Moscow’s “Book Casino” show, Varlamov says he thinks interest in documentary prose arose because “we want to know the truth about what happened to us. We were deceived for too long.” Varlamov goes on to say the books in the “Lives of Remarkable People” series are important to him because he’s interested in Russian history, “Russian history is in people, history interests me with its specific human fates.”
Varlamov Recommends: In that same interview on Echo of Moscow’s “Book Casino” show, Varlamov said his favorite work by Aleksey Tolstoy is Nikita’s Childhood. He also praised Tolstoy’s The Road to Calvary trilogy and Mikhail Bulgakov’s White Guard for their positive characters. In an online forum with readers of Russian Newspaper, Varlamov listed many contemporary writers he enjoys reading, including Zakhar Prilepin, Aleksey Ivanov, Vladimir Makanin, Alexander Kabakov, Maya Kucherskaya, Roman Senchin, and Oleg Pavlov. He also praised Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago as having great historical significance to Russia, said he enjoys Latin American writers (“but not Coelho!”) plus Haruki Murakami and Milorad Pavić, and finished the session by recommending Joseph Brodsky’s poetry. Another item from Russian Newspaper lists ten of Varlamov’s favorite books: they include The Bible, Dostoevsky’s The Demons, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, and Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles.