Quick Study: Ilya Boyashov writes short novels, often blending elements of history, fantasy, and satire to craft parables.
The Boyashov File: Ilya Boyashov, a history instructor and novelist who believes history is literature rather than a science, published his first book of fiction—a short story collection called Play Your Own Melody—in 1989. Boyashov now tends to write concise novels that use allegory, fantasy, and humor to address cultural and historical topics. Boyashov has received considerable critical acclaim: he won the 2007 National Bestseller award for The Way of Muri, a short novel about an allegorical Bosnian tomcat wandering Europe after losing his people during the war. Not long thereafter, his The Tank Driver, or “The White Tiger,” which draws on World War 2 history as it tells the story of a Soviet tank driver searching for a ghost-like German White Tiger tank, was shortlisted for the National Bestseller and Big Book awards. The book was adapted for film by Karen Shakhnazarov, as The White Tiger, and selected as Russia’s foreign language film entry for the 2013 Academy Awards.
Psssst………: Boyashov said in an interview that he began putting stories to paper when he was a first grader, progressing, as he grew, from pen and ink to ballpoint pens, then a typewriter in his teens; he says he now likes using a notebook computer because it’s portable and saves time in making revisions… Boyashov says he was denied membership in the Communist Party for having a poor attitude.
Boyashov’s Places: Born in Leningrad where he also studied history at the Herzen Pedagogical Institute… Lives in Peterhof, a town famous for Peter the Great’s palace, parks, and fountains… Teaches history at the Nakhimovsky Academy in St. Petersburg.
The Word on Boyashov: Critic Lev Danilkin’s review of The Tank Driver, or “The White Tiger” concludes by writing that a new “big writer” had appeared: Danilkin particularly praises Boyashov’s writing, where he says “tens of thousands of words dancing in the same rhythm radiate a sinister charm.” In the “thick” literary journal Novyi mir, Kirill Glikman writes about The Armada, The Tank Driver, and Konung, saying the first two seem to lack something but praising Konung—a novel about Riurik, the first prince of Ancient Rus’, that generally received unenthusiastic notices—as Boyashov’s “largest and most meaningful book” and noting Boyashov’s progress as a writer, from the ironic play of The Armada and tragically absurd myth of The Tank Driver to a powerful myth where the hero “doesn’t make mistakes and chooses a new life instead of heroic death.”
Boyashov on Boyashov: In an interview, Boyashov cited several sources of inspiration for The Way of Muri: stories of cats who return to their people after many years and his own cat, saying, “overall, though, I think they’re all alike: smart, arrogant, and very interesting.”
On Writing: Boyashov said in a 2007 interview that he earns his living by teaching, not writing. “I write very little, in horror that it will turn into a routine and no longer be pleasurable.” In another interview, Boyashov recalled discussions of manuscripts at the Writers’ Union, where criticism was strong: “And after the writer under discussion had been crushed, everyone went down to the Writers’ Union restaurant and people slapped the unhappy writer on the shoulder and said, ‘Of course your story is crap but you’re a good guy.’ After that, no critics scare me.”
Boyashov Recommends: In a 2008 interview, Boyashov noted two examples of writers creating positive characters: Andrei Platonov in “The Innermost Man” and Nikolai Leskov in “The Enchanted Wanderer.” Nikolai Gogol, notes Boyashov, failed, thus burned the second volume of Dead Souls. Some of the qualities of books that Boyashov likes: positive characters and lies, “The more you lie in a book, the better it turns out…”
Photo Credit: Rodrigo Fernández, Creative Commons