Quick Study: Alexander Kabakov achieved instant fame with the perestroika-era publication of No Return, a dystopian novel seen as prophetic because of its descriptions of discord.
The Kabakov File: Alexander Kabakov is a journalist, fiction writer, and playwright who became well-known in 1989 for No Return, a short dystopian novel first published in the journal The Art of Cinema. No Return has been translated into several languages, including English, and adapted into a film. Kabakov, who wrote largely “for his desk” during the Soviet era, followed No Return with novels including The Last Hero (1995) and Nothing’s Lost (2003), which won the second jury prize from the Big Book Award as well as the Apollon Grigoriev Prize. Kabakov co-wrote, with Yevgeny Popov, a book of reminiscences about writer Vasily Aksyonov that was shortlisted for the 2012 Big Book Award. Kabakov has worked at the newspaper Kommersant since 1997 after long stints at Moscow News and Gudok, a railroad industry newspaper.
Psssst………: After graduating from college, Kabakov worked in a missile factory, “I made a big contribution to our never attacking anyone,” he said in a 1996 interview, adding, “Seriously, I know this well from the inside. Building missiles is a bigger bluff than our famous ballet. I remember well how we designed the warheads that they paraded around Red Square in sixty-five.” After unsatisfying work on missiles (he says many exploded on the launch site) and in engineering, Kabakov ended up at the railroad industry newspaper Gudok, where he worked for 17 years.
Kabakov’s Places: Born in Novosibirsk, to which his family evacuated during World War 2… studied mechanics and mathematics in Dnepropetrovsk… lives in Moscow.
The Word on Kabakov: Kirkus Reviews wrote of Thomas Whitney’s 1990 translation of Kabakov’s No Return, “Part 1984, part Mad Max, part Brazil: a hysterical scream from a future that could begin tomorrow.” Kseniya Rozhdestvenskaya, writing in 2004 in NLO about Nothing’s Lost, says Kabakov always creates something new from surrounding realities, be it “action, dystopia, or a classic detective novel, acutely sensing what literature lacks at that moment. Now there’s a turn for an almost Trifonovesque ‘pure realism’—at least Kabakov’s new novel, Nothing’s Lost, can be taken that way, particularly since its subtitle is A Chronicle from Private Life.”
Kabakov on Kabakov: In an interview with the magazine Russian Pioneer, Kabakov discussed his life during the Soviet era, saying he wasn’t a dissident, adding that he fit in, at least on the outside, “I just never rebelled on such a practical level. I worked as a journalist during the Soviet era. I tried to work as a journalist in such a way that I didn’t denounce Sakharov and Solzhenitsyn, to generally not be involved in political journalism.”
On Writing: In a 1996 interview with the literary journal Druzhba Narodov, Kabakov said, “I write for my own reader. The same thing as writing for myself. I write what’s interesting for me to read. To read, not to say or to write. When I feel like reading something but it doesn’t yet exist in nature, I sit down and write.” Kabakov goes on to say he writes for his peers, estimating there are hundreds of thousands of such people.
Kabakov Recommends: In a 1996 interview, Kabakov gave high praise to Georgii Vladimov’s The General and His Army, which won the 1995 Russian Booker Prize. Vladimov’s book, said Kabakov, is accessible to regular people, not just those in the literary crowd. In the same interview, Kabakov called Yuri Trifonov a “great twentieth-century Russian writer” who’s underrated and listed other favorites, including Vasily Aksyonov, Sergei Dovlatov, Asar Eppel, and Valery Popov. Kabakov also praised Liudmila Ulitskaya’s Daniel Stein, Translator in a 2010 interview.
Photo Credit: Faina Osmanova, via Vavilon.ru.