Dmitry Bykov is a prize-winning novelist and poet, popular essayist and major public figure. Born in 1967 in Moscow, Bykov graduated from Moscow University Department of Journalism and today is deputy editor of the Sobesednik weekly. Winner of 20 prizes including the International Strugatsky Prize for the novel Orthography (2004) and Evacuator (2006); the National Bestseller Prize for his biography of Pasternak (2006) which later also won the Big Book Prize.
A prolific author Bykov has published a dozen novels to date, several collections of poetry, a book of fairytales, three books of essays. His novels show a clear fondness for dystopian fiction and alternative histories and invariably inspire heated public debates. According to one critic: “Each of Bykov's recent successes could easily have been a crowning achievement of someone else's entire career.”
His better-known novels include:
Acquittal, a novel, his personal favorite, is an alternative history of Russia.
Orthography, a novel, an intense personal saga set in revolutionary Russia, was met with eager response by readers and critics alike, and was universally considered the best novel of 2004.
The Evacuator, a novel, is a morality parable posing as an anti-utopia.
How Putin Became President of the USA, a collection of political satires.
BORIS PASTERNAK, a definitive biography of the poet as well as an exciting portrait of Russia in the early 20th century. It was published in French by Fayard.
Bykov also published biographies of Vladimir Mayakovsky (see excerpt), Bulat Okudzhava, Maxim Gorky.
ZhD (Living Souls) is considered as one of the most important novels written in Russian and about Russians today. Anyone interested in Russia and its future should read it. The novel abounds in vivid scenes, intense dialogues, striking ideas, and memorable characters. Living Souls was published in English by Alma Books, UK.
Praise for Bykov
“Dmitry Bykov, a highly versatile author whose output includes a novel described as a bombshell, is a dystopian satire about ethnic conflicts, the novel portrays clashes between peoples clearly intended to represent Russians and Jews. Bykov, who calls it the best book that can possibly be written today’, has no less candidly said it is fiercely Russophobic and fiercely antisemitic, depicting both Russians and Jews as virus nations which bring misfortune and decay to whatever they're trying to colonise". -- The Guardian
“ZhD can be called a unique ‘journalistic epic’ and a most remarkable ideological thriller.” – Commersant weekly
“The novel is certainly a magnum opus, presenting everything Bykov thinks and feels about Russia, and his thoughts are abundant.” – Novaya Gazeta
“ZhD is a veritable encyclopedia of Russian life today despite the fact that the action takes place in the near future. This is, without a doubt, a very important book, the best Bykov has written to date.” – GAZETA.RU
“ZhD is an epic novel about the humankind rather than human individuals. The war he describes is not really over the territory but over the right to establish a new order, a new ideology.” – Booknik
“Bykov offers answers to practically all the fundamental Russian questions. … A masterful epic novel with Gogolean wealth of verbal expressiveness and symbolism.” – Book Review
“ZhD is an anti-liberal and at the same time anti-totalitarian novel. Bykov is equally critical of the powers that be and the reformers, depicting both in a grotesque manner.” – Ex-libris
Orthography, a novel, 500 pp.
French translation – 2009 Editions Denoel
Orthography, a novel somewhat reminiscent of Doctor Zhivago, is an intense personal saga set in revolutionary Russia. The action unfolds around the ridiculous Soviet decree (1918) abolishing the traditional Russian orthography. Old-time St Petersburg philologists are made redundant and placed, out of pity, in an abandoned mansion. Soon disputes among them lead to a split into archaists and innovators. The fight between the two dissenting parties constitutes the bulk of the plot. Orthography for Bykov is synonymous with education and culture in general which are always discarded first by all the social revolutions. The association with the current Russian situation is obvious: in conditions of post-revolutionary restoration the liberals are powerless to change anything.
Another plot line follows the amorous adventures of the protagonist nicknamed Ortho amidst the chaos of the post-revolutionary Crimea and St Petersburg.
Ortho is wise and tolerant, he tries to be above the barriers and reconcile the two warring groups. There are major scholars and scientists on both sides with collected works and important discoveries to their names. They are all heading to a tragic end, and Ortho is already aware of these prospects. Not taking sides he is fond of these fine thinkers, and so is the author.
The novel was met with eager response by readers and critics alike, and was universally considered the best novel of 2004.
The Quarter, a novel, 300 pp.
Our famous “enfant-terrible” and oppositionist Dmitry Bykov produced an experimental novel-quest, novel-game, called The Quarter. He claims this is a new word in world literature, something that no one has ever written before. Reviews compared the novel with Gogol and Bulgakov while Bykov himself insists that he has launched a new genre of novel-solution.
The reader is supposed to be the main protagonist while the author assumes the role of his/her guide who compels the reader to do all sorts of strange things which supposedly will make them rich (many readers confessed they swallowed the bait and were actually tempted to follow the author’s instructions.) In fact this ruse is a pretext for both the author and the reader to review their past and present life, remember the dear ones they’ve lost, and revive their unrealized hopes.
Bykov is a very prolific author and one of the most interesting thinkers in Russia today. His language is always precise, rich and figurative, and his each new novel is highly original and imaginative.
THE LIST, a novel, 300 pp.
The List, a novel parable and political satire, is Part One of a trilogy The Zero Years (the two other parts – The Joppa Island and The Town of Kamsk – are to come out by the end of 2009) but it reads as a self-sufficient work. The protagonist, a TV scriptwriter called Sergei Sviridov suddenly discovers that his name figures in some mysterious list together with 180 other persons of different professions, ages, genders, etc. The people in the list are bothered by the authorities in various ways, such as sudden summons for medical check-ups at a special clinic, inquiries from the customs and tax inspectors; some of them are sacked and even detained under false pretexts. No official accusations are given and the unfortunates are racking their brains what they might have done wrong which is different from the minor demeanors committed by everybody around them.
Sviridov is made redundant, his whole career is at risk and on top of this he is losing the affection of his girlfriend. Not a bad fellow by any count, he is an average person the reader can easily identify with. Pondering on the reasons of his trouble he believes that he is different from the others only in that he has always stood his point and tried to remain true to himself, although circumstances had invariably forced him to make compromises. Lots of people feel like this and, like the protagonist, make compromises for the sake of creature comforts.
The fellow sufferers finally meet, having found one another through the internet, and establish a sort of a society. They compare notes and indulge in self-analysis, but nothing transpires and no common denominator suggests itself. The reader is expected as it were to make his own deductions.
Bykov parades an impressive and convincing gallery of social types, people from different walks of life all of whom are psychologically ready for some such persecution. In fact it is The List that is the main hero, conditioning as it does the lives of those included in it and even those trying to stay away from it. Bykov models one more Russian matrix, this time one of social behavior, mainly the herd instinct compelling people to join all sorts of lists and groups, including internet blogs and forums.
The List is also a novel-provocation, offering a number of self-excluding versions and salvations. Finally the simplest and the most obvious one comes from the only positive character in the novel, Sviridov’s girlfriend Alya: “Look what’s become of you: you milksop! You whine and whimper, you gossip with all those misfits and spread their idiotic inventions. It does not even come to your head that you can simply live your life and ignore all this nonsense.”
What will become of Russia if all the stupid rules and regulations are really observed, the narrator wonders? Fortunately, many people simply ignore them. Even in the fateful 1937 it was often enough to move to another region to avoid arrest. The main thing is to resist the general hypnosis and keep your head clear, the narrator concludes.
The novel ends with the protagonist appealing to God: “Why did you give me light if I’m still in the dark? You have no answer? To hell with you, then.”