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Selected 20th-century Russian Classics


Anna Akhmatova,   Ales Adamovich,   Pavel Bazhov,   Olga Bergholtz,   Vasil Bykov,    Korney Chukovsky,   Lydia Chukovskaya,   Evgenia Ginzburg,   Lev Gumilev,   Yuri Olesha,   Boris Pasternak,   Andrei Platonov,   Anatoly Rybakov,   Galina Scherbakova,   Yevgeny Schwartz,   Varlam Shalamov,   Frieda Vigdorova,   Vladimir Voinovich.


Anna AKHMATOVA (1889-1966)
A great Russian poet suppressed during her lifetime and now widely published around the world. Her famous poetry cycles include Evening, Rosary, Plantain, The White Flock, Anno Domini. Her long poems Requiem and Poem without Hero are regarded as the greatest masterpieces of the 20th century. Akhmatova’s international stature continues to grow after her death.

Ales ADAMOVICH (1926-1994)
A prize-winning author of more than 20 books and an eminent public activist he was writing both in Belorussian and Russian and lived alternatively in Minsk and Moscow. He saw action in the WWII Belorussian partisan army, which later provided material for his war novels. In the 1970s, he collected witness stories about Nazi atrocities on occupied territories and published them in the book I’m from the Fiery Village that was translated into many languages and adapted for the cinema. Together with Daniil Granin, he recorded shocking stories of the survivors of the Leningrad Siege: The Blockade Book (Leningrad under Siege). His other best-known books include: Khatyn; The Punitive Squad; The Last Pastoral; Deaf and Dumb; Vixi.

Pavel BAZHOV (1879-1950)
Prolific storyteller from the Urals mostly known for his magic tales and renderings of the Urals folklore (Malachite Casket, The Stone Flower, Mistress of the Copper Mountain, to name a few.) All his life he collected the “secret legends and traditions of the Urals” circulating among the Urals miners and prospectors. Bazhov accumulated extensive folklore material for his world-famous cycle of Urals tales. However, his stories are not simply retellings of existing legends, they are original works stylized as folk tales. Bazhov’s Malachite Casket inspired Prokofyev to compose the ballet “Stone Flower”. Bazhov was also a historian of the revolutionary movement in the Urals with several books to his name.

Olga BERGGOLTZ (1910 -1975)
A major poet with several prize-winning poetry collections to her name Olga Berggoltz is most famous for her diaries chronicling the Siege of Leningrad: Leningrad Speaking. She spent all the 900 days of the siege in Leningrad working on the radio to encourage her famished people with her poetry and reporting. She became the symbol of the besieged city, the “Muse of Leningrad”.

Vasil BYKOV (1924-2003)
"Vasil Bykov is a very courageous and uncompromising writer, rather of the Solzhenitsyn stamp," wrote Michael Glenny in Partisan Review.
A major Byelorussian author, winner of many top literary prizes, is best known for his war novels. Amidst the flow of bombastic paeans to war heroism he was the first to look at the unheroic aspects of the war and to investigate the problem of moral choice versus personal safety. His novels challenged the official version of the war. This brought upon the writer vicious accusations of "false humanism". He took the same approach writing about Russia's post-revolutionary history, marked by the dispossession of well-to-do peasants and the Cheka's ruthless repressions of innocent people when victims and executioners often changed places.
Bykov’s talent and moral courage earned him endorsements for the Nobel Prize nomination from the Nobel Prize winners Joseph Brodsky and Czeslaw Milosz.

Kornei CHUKOVSKY (1882-1969)
Children’s writer, essayist, scholar. Many of his verse tales for children (The Giant Roach, The Crocodile, Wash’em Clean) with their air of mischief and lightness were adapted for the theater and cinema, while Sergei Prokofyev produced several operas and ballets based on Chukovsky’s tales. His book about children From Two to Five is highly popular with parents and children’s psychologists. Chukovsky was friends with many famous people of his age and throughout his life almost daily he noted down his impressions and reflections in his diary. In 1991 his Diaries were published in Russia to great critical and readers’ acclaim and later published in English by Yale University Press. His 15-volume collected works include some brilliant works for adults.

Lydia CHUKOVSKAYA (1907-1996)
Writer, poet, essayist. Daughter of Korney Chukovsky and a close friend of Akhmatova. For many years Chukovskaya was making notes about her conversations with Akhmatova, and after the poet’s death in 1966, she prepared the book Journals of Anna Akhmatova, now translated into many languages. Her most famous novel, Sofya Petrovna, “about a society gone insane”, was based on her own experiences as a political prisoner and exile. Among her writings also stands out her autobiographical book Childhood Memories. Memoirs about Korney Chukovsky.

Evgenia GINZBURG (1904-1977)
A victim of the Stalinist repressions, Ginzburg is best known for her Journey into the Whirlwind a memoir about her gulag experiences. Like many communists during the Great Purge, Ginzburg was accused of participating in a "counter-revolutionary Trotskyist group" and sentenced to 10 years hard labor in Siberia. Her memoir was smuggled abroad and translated into many languages. The book was first published in Russia only in 1988. She was the mother of vassily Aksenov.

Lev GUMILEV (1912-1992)
A historian, ethnologist, anthropologist and translator from Persian, he is mainly known for his highly non-orthodox theories of ethnogenesis, introducing such notions as ethnos, super-ethnos, sub-ethnos, passionarity, parasite nations, etc. His scholarly studies are written in an accessible entertaining style and read as fine literature. They have all been popular with the educated readers as well as historians and geographers, climatologists, archaeologists, and cultural anthropologists. His best known books include Ethnogenesis and the Biosphere; Searches for an Imaginary Kingdom of Presfer John. (Cambridge University Press.)

Yuri OLESHA (1899-1960)
Novelist, poet, dramatist. Mainly remembered for his novel Envy translated into many languages. Also popular are his collection of diary notes and reflectopns, No Day Without a Line, his short stories, and the brilliant fairytale novel Three Fat Men, which has been screened and dramatized with enormous success.

Boris PASTERNAK (1890-1960)
A great Russian poet whose novel Doctor Zhivago won him the Nobel Prize and brought a campaign of abuse against him in the USSR. His poetry cycles include Over the Barriers, My Sister – Life, and many others. He also has short stories to his name and the autobiographical book Safe Conduct.

Andrei PLATONOV (1899-1951)
After a lifetime of persecution Andrei Platonov has emerged as one of the greatest writers of the 20th century, an artist of profound genius, integrity and clarity of vision. Today he is venerated in Russia, and his major novels, Chevengur and The Foundation Pit, have been published in numerous editions. His influence on contemporary Russian writing is enormous, and he marked a new era in Russian literature, his language and style being so distinctive that for a long time his work defied translation. Platonov vividly presents the dreams of the builders of socialism in all their inarticulate confusion, with a sympathy not lessened by an unparalleled awareness of their tragic consequences.

Anatoly RYBAKOV (1911-1998)
A major Russian author, “a Russian Graham Greene”. In 1933, Rybakov was exiled to Siberia for his subversive political statements, but he cleared his record by serving as a tankman during the Second World War. Rybakov had sensational success with his novel Heavy Sand (1978) which was soon published in 26 countries. It is about the ordeals of Russian Jews exterminated by the Nazi during WWII. In 1987, his most famous novel Children of the Arbat came out; it was soon followed by two sequels: Fear and Dust and Ashes. Children of the Arbat has become an international bestseller, published in 52 countries.

Evgeny SCHWARTZ (1896-1958)
Prolific and popular dramatist, children’s writer. His most successful plays include The Naked King, The Red Riding Hood, The Snow Queen, The Shadow, An Ordinary Miracle, The Story of a Young Couple, A Tale of Lost Time, A Tale of a Brave Soldier. In 1941, together with Zoschenko, he wrote a grotesque anti-fascist play Under the Berlin Lime Trees. Schwartz survived the Leningrad siege and wrote a play about the defenders of Leningrad: One Night, and The Distant Lands about children evacuated from Leningrad.

Galina SCHERBAKOVA (1932-2010)
Scherbakova grew up in Donetsk. She has 30 titles to her name, all of them in print. She could write about love and human relationship like no one else – with great insight and sympathy but without sentimentality. Her stories have been published in Germany, China, Hungary, Bulgaria and Finland. She left several short novels and more than 20 collections of short stories. Her books have lost nothing of their relevance, and many have been adapted for films.

Varlam SHALAMOV (1907-1982)
My writing is no more about camps than St-Exupery's is about the sky or Melville's, about the sea. My stories are basically advice to an individual on how to act in a crowd,” says Shalamov.
Varlam Shalamov, writer and poet, is best known for his Kolyma Tales, a harrowing account of the Soviet labor camps. Kolyma Tales is generally recognized as a masterpiece of Russian prose and the greatest work of literature about the Gulag. This thousand-page cycle of stories draws mainly on Shalamov’s personal experiences as a prisoner in Kolyma. Shalamov saw himself as a spokesman for innocent victims of Stalinism.

Frieda VIGDOROVA (1915-1965)
This writer and human rights activist is mainly known for her transcript of the trial on Brodsky, circulated in samizdat and called “the thirteen Herculean labor.” Vigdorova was close friends of Anna Akhmatova and Lydia Chukovskaya. Thanks to Vigdorova’s efforts many innocent people were released from the camps or reinstated in their jobs. She has a dozen books to her name reflecting her experiences as a dissident and the school system of her times. They were published already in the 1990s.

Vladimir VOINOVICH (born in 1932)
Voinovich is a major author of satirical prose. For his world-famous novel The Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin, he was deprived of Soviet citizenship for “activities hostile to the prestige of the USSR”. In 1991, Voinovich`s was able to return to Moscow. Voinovich has more than 20 novels to his name which won him many international awards and honor titles, also the State Prize of the Russian Federation and Andrei Sakharov Prize for Civic Courage.