I just learned (via Lizok’s Bookshelf) of the death on Monday of Vasily Aksyonov (Василий Аксёнов) in Moscow at the age of 76. He was one of the leading writers of the shestidesyatniki, the generation of the ’60s that rejected official Soviet culture. He came to prominence with his 1961 novel Звёздный билет (“A ticket to the stars” or “A starry ticket”), “which seems to have been read by almost everyone and was bitterly attacked and vigorously defended in the Sovet press of the sixties”; it “deals with adolescent characters who think and talk in an idiom that instinctively rejects established formulas” (Edward J. Brown, Russian Literature since the Revolution, p. 359).

Among the young writers Aksyonov was probably the most resourceful in the use of language, no doubt the most fertile in stylistic innovation, and certainly the most original in his manipulation of plot and narrative viewpoint. He moved with each work farther away from realistic narrative in the direction of experimentation with the novel form…. The concept of “carnivalization” as developed by Bakhtin … clearly applies to what Aksyonov is doing, carnivalization of language especially. In the course of a linguistic bouleversement, nonstandard language overwhelms the standard and proper language…. Aksyonov’s language and that of his characters is as a rule an invented idiom, studded with what are known in Russia as “barbarisms,” that is, foreign words, usually American, along with scientific terminology, racy colloquial dialogue, and parodies of orthodox narrative idiom. Svirsky has pointed out that Aksyonov’s books are indispensable, moreover, to any linguist concerned with the rich vagaries of contemporary Soviet slang. (Brown, pp. 361-63.)

I have his Затоваренная бочкотара (Surplussed Barrelware) and Ожог (The Burn) in Russian, and the latter and The Island of Crimea in English, and I’m annoyed at myself for not having gotten around to any of them. I’ll try to remedy that shortly. (NY Times obituary by Sophia Kishkovsky here.)


  1. A good selection of his books is available online, for example here:
    I like his book about America “В поисках грустного бэби”

  2. I am actually a little shocked how little attention Aksyonov’s death has gotten. I suppose he’s not that well known in the English speaking world. In the 80s and early 90s he was a major figure, arguably the pre-eminent novelist in the Russian world, certainly among emigres. The Burn is truly excellent, The Island of Crimea is probably his most popular work, but more of a high concept exercise than a great novel. There is hopefully some alternate universe where Aksyonov’s artistic contribution is considered at least as important as Michael Jackson’s.

  3. Of his I’ve mostly only read “Маленький Кит, лакировщик действительности”. I’d send a link, but don’t have one. But I bet there’s one to be had, if only one had a few more words of the text to google.

  4. But I bet there’s one to be had, if only one had a few more words of the text to google.
    Apparently not (assuming I didn’t mess up). Only snippets in GB and nothing on the Wider Web.

  5. This Saturday’s “Культурный шок” program on Эхо Москвы will be about Aksyonov; Vladimir Voinovich and Irina Barmetova are the scheduled guests. The program’s page is here.
    Transcripts and archived mp3s are usually posted within a day or two of the program. (Maybe faster; I usually check on Monday mornings.)

  6. dearieme says

    OT, but: the Nigeness blog points me to Thesaurus news.

  7. Why was his literary movement called “the sixteenies”?

  8. It’s “the sixtiers”; ‘sixty’ is shest’desyat, and derived forms are based on the genitive, shestidesyati.

  9. I should have added that the same word, shestidesyatniki, is also used for the radical generation of the 1860s who worshiped Hegel, wanted to destroy tsarism, and despised art for art’s sake.

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