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Vasily Aksyonov

BMJ 2009; 339 doi: (Published 19 August 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b3280
  1. Boleslav Lichterman

    Russian doctor who became a pro-Western writer, dissident, and playboy

    Vasily Aksyonov was a symbol and leader of a generation of liberal and Westward looking writers, which was characteristic of Soviet literature in the 1960s as a result of the softening of totalitarianism after Stalin’s death in 1953. In his writing and lifestyle he embodied the hopes of personal and political freedom in Russia after the second world war. According to his fellow writer Evgeny Popov, “Just like from Gogol’s overcoat, all modern Russian literature emerged from Aksyonov’s denim jacket.”

    He worked as a doctor but then pursued a literary career, which lasted almost half a century. He wrote 23 books, including novels, many short stories, and plays. He was a member of the Union of Soviet Writers, and honorariums from his books allowed him to lead a bohemian lifestyle in the 1960s. But in the 1970s the situation changed. Two novels, Ozhog (The Burn) and Ostrov Krym (The Island of Crimea), were banned in the former Soviet Union. The latter, a vivid example of a genre of alternative history, is considered one of his masterpieces. Aksyonov had invented a Russian Taiwan or Hong Kong, by transforming Crimea from a peninsula into an island where the Bolsheviks had failed to seize power.

    In 1979 Aksyonov and 22 other writers participated in an almanac, Metropol, which was censored by the Soviets but published abroad. Aksyonov decided to leave his writers’ union and …

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