Quick Study: Yuz Aleshkovsky is a popular writer of poetry, prose, and screenplays who is especially noted for his colorful nonconformist works and pioneering uses of expletives in Russian literature.
The Aleshkovsky File: Yuz Aleshkovsky began his literary career in the early 1950s by writing screenplays and children’s stories, later moving on to write works that could only be published unofficially during the Soviet era, as samizdat. He emigrated in the late 1970s. Aleshkovsky’s work is marked by satire, prison camp themes, and vernacular language, including creative uses of words unable to pass prim Soviet censors. Several of his novels, including Kangaroo and The Hand, have been translated into English, and his most recent book, A Little Prison Novel, won the Russian Prize in April 2012.
Psssst………: Aleshkovsky’s (very unofficial!) song “Товарищ Сталин, вы большой ученый” (“Comrade Stalin, You Are a Great Scholar”), from a “simple Soviet prisoner,” is a classic. The song came into being in prison camp: the twenty-year-old Aleshkovsky was sentenced to “sit” after he and fellow sailors, drunk, stole a car so they wouldn’t be late for a train. Aleshkovsky served four years in Birobidzhan, in the Jewish Autonomous Republic. Aleshkovsky was freed when Stalin died in 1953.
Aleshkovsky’s Places: Born in Krasnoyarsk, moved to Moscow as an infant. Emigrated in the late ‘70s. Has lived in Austria and the United States, where he has been visiting Russian émigré writer at Wesleyan University’s Russian department.
The Word on Aleshkovsky: Reviewer David Holahan, in The Chicago Tribune, writes that, though Kangaroo may be difficult for non-Russian readers, it has substantial rewards, “Delivered with a searing and insightful wit, Aleshkovsky’s message is universal and compelling: humankind should be free, or at least struggling to be so.”
Aleshkovsky on Aleshkovsky: When asked if he’s a happy/fortunate person, Aleshkovsky replied, “I’m grateful! I’ve determined, in general, what happiness is. Maybe other people will get to that point, too. I think happiness is gratitude to the creator for absolutely everything in your life and fate: for successes as well as failures. I’m happy when I look at a flower, at a dog. At a friend I enjoy being with. At a women I love. At the world around me, and that I have a muse, that I have work I love.”
On Writing: Aleshkovsky has said Joseph Brodsky had a “colossal influence on the development of my taste and views of life, and on [my] thinking, such as it is.”
Aleshkovsky Recommends: Writer Andrei Bitov is a good friend; Bitov introduced Aleshkovsky to Joseph Brodsky, whose poetry Aleshkovsky says impressed him deeply, “I felt that this was not just good poetry but an entire epoch.”
Photo credit: Aleksei Balakin, Creative Commons