Dmitry Bykov iis 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 twenty 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 major books 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 Quarter, a novel-quest interspersed with personal reminiscences.
The List, a novel parable and political satire, is Part One of a trilogy The Zero Years.
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.
Biographies of Bulat Okudzhava, Maxim Gorky.
ZhD (Living Souls) his magnum opus is considered as one of the most important novels written in Russian and about Russians today. Living Souls was published in English by Alma Books, UK.
June, a novel set on the eve of the Second World War, conveying an atmosphere of pre-war anticipation in Russia.
JUNE, a novel, 500 pp. AST, 2017
Many critics think JUNE is Bykov’s best novel to date. The novel consists of three parts each beginning two years before 22 June 1941 and ends on that fateful day when the Soviet Union was invaded by the Nazi. Set in the years 1939-41 it is basically about the anticipation of the imminent war, the crisis of morality, the general feeling of disorientation in society, inflation of human values, and complex personal relationships against this background. The three protagonists vividly exemplify this situation in Russian society. Each of them undergoes his own path towards maturity and that state of the mind which the war finds them in on the first morning of the war.
Part One is the story of a young poet Misha Gritsman who is expelled from university on a slanderous denunciation of a fellow student, a girl he is in love with. Misha is summoned to a Komsomol meeting where it becomes obvious how much he is an alien in this Soviet-minded group. Misha takes a menial job at the hospital where his father works as a doctor. Misha is immersed in a completely different environment which enables him to observe the seamy side of life and meet very real people. He carries on two love affairs at the same time and can’t give up either of them. There is an ethereal blond Leah with whom he experiences lofty spiritual relationship. And there is the lustful redhead Valya (the one who reported him to the authorities) with whom his affair is passionately sexual.
Part Two features 37-years-old journalist Boris Gordon who is also a secret KGB agent. Boris is a typical product of the stern 1920s, the generation of revolutionary Commissars. He is strong-willed and vivacious but also depressed by the stifling atmosphere of the 1930s. Being Jewish he is apprehensive about the Soviet Union’s alliance with the Nazi Germany and the imminent social outburst. He is ready to believe in the guilt of the recently arrested “enemies of the people”. Like Misha Gritsman he is also stuck between two women: his wife with whom he fell out of love, and the young ex-emigrant Alya who is touchingly naive in her expectations of social justice in the USSR.
Part Three describes an eccentric philologist who is convinced that he can condition the reader’s mind linguistically and thus suggest to him certain decisions. He takes a minor job at some ministry which allows him to submit annual reports to Stalin. He believes that by manipulating letters and words in his reports he actually influences the leader’s decisions. He intends to stop the impending war at all costs but then he changes his mind about war being a disaster and comes to see it as a catharsis and good riddance from human trash.
There is a common character uniting the three novellas: the driver Lyosha who is friends with all the protagonists. But an even more unifying factor is the characters’ feeling of the inevitability of war and each person’s attitude towards it.
Bykov paints an incredibly graphic portrait of the 1930s as a cozy and harmonious world of our grandparents, who had survived that period unaware of the gulags and repressions which makes the picture rather frightening.
The allusions to our own times suggest themselves readily: then as now people anticipated a “Big Bang” which would liberate them from evil while at the same time being a retribution for being part of it. However, Bykov believes that the imminent storm will not bring relief from evil after all – and this is the main message of the novel.