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
The Thirteenth Apostle. Mayakovsky. Tragedy-buff in Six Acts..
Biography. 800 pp. Molodaya Gvardia Publishers, 2016.
Critics unanimously called The Thirteenth Apostle “one of the most important literary events of the year.” An antipode to the definitive biography of Mayakovsky by Bengt Jangfeldt, Bykov’s book reads as an exciting detective novel, presenting a self-contained world, vivid, varied, vibrant, and chaotic, into which you are deeply immersed for the duration of this exciting reading. It provides a wide historical context and spotlights many of the poet’s famous contemporaries such as Maxim Gorky, Anatoly Lunacharsky, Valery Brusov, the Burlyuk brothers, Velemir Khlebnikov, Sergei Esenin, Vladmir Khodasevich, Victor Shklovsky, Mikhail Bulgakov, Anna Akhmatova, to name just a few.
Significantly, the book is dedicated to the memory of David Foster Wallace whose manner Bykov tries to imitate, mainly as he attempts “to hurl each chapter at the reader from an unexpected angle and thus create an intentionally disjointed narrative.”
The book is divided into six chapters, or “acts”, each having a unifying theme. “The Shot” focuses on the details of Mayakovsky’s suicide; “The Voice” is devoted to Mayakovsky’s famous stage performances; “Teenager” is about the poet’s early years in Tbilisi, Georgia; “The Futurist” depicts his poetic experimentations; “The Leader” talks about the years when Mayakovsky practically ruled the country’s literary life; “Disaster” takes us back to his suicide. The chapters are subdivided into recurring subjects such as “Twelve Women” introducing the main women in Mayakovsky’s life, and “Contemporaries” devoted to the people who had played an important role in his life.
In Bykov’s interpretation, Mayakovsky is a self-made super-man, a born giant. It was to himself, and not to the revolution, that he owed his extraordinary qualities: but he certainly coincided with the revolution in time and aspirations. “At some point the living Mayakovsky became of no use to the living revolution. However, when both the poet and the revolution were long dead they matched perfectly. His sloganeering, the aphoristic quality of his language, and his brutality, all came in handy,” thus Bykov explains his top position in Russian letters. And he goes on to declare that “Mayakovsky was the Christ of the Russian Revolution, or rather the Thirteenth Apostle, the most devoted and the most unfortunate.”
Bykov closely examines Mayakovsky’s main love Lily Brik and pronounces his diagnosis: “Any emptiness is enticing – you are free to fill it with your own imagination. Lily must have been such an all-devouring emptiness, an abyss greedily absorbing more and more substance.”
If it is true that any portrait is partly a self-portrait, Dmitry Bykov is a worthy biographer of Mayakovsky – a major author painting a controversial portrait of a major poet, an icon of his epoch, against the background of his turbulent times.