Russian Writer and Soviet Dissident Aksyonov Dies

Vasily Aksyonov, a prolific Russian writer and one
of the last dissidents to be exiled from the Soviet Union, died
Monday. He was 76.

Aksyonov died at a Moscow hospital where he was being treated
after suffering a stroke last year, his widow Maya told Ekho Mosvky
radio.

Aksyonov wrote more than 20 novels during a career that included
his forced exile from the Soviet Union in 1980 after he was branded
as "anti-Soviet." His most famous prose works were "The Burn,"
"The Island of Crimea" and "The Moscow Saga," known in English
as "Generations of Winter."

Aksyonov lived in the United States for more than two decades,
teaching Russian and Russian literature at George Mason University
in Fairfax, Virginia, and working for Radio Liberty as journalist.

Born Aug. 20, 1932, in the central city of Kazan, Aksyonov was
the son of Yevgenia Ginzburg, a prominent journalist. She and his
father, a local Communist official, were sent to labor camps in the
late 1930s at the height of Josef Stalin's political purges, and he
was placed in an orphanage.

At age 16, Aksyonov joined his mother in exile in the far
eastern Magadan region, remote and frigid Magadan region, home to
some of the harshest gulag prison camps, where his views were
shaped in an atmosphere of free discussion among the repressed
intelligentsia. His mother became known internationally after the
publication of her memoir, "Journey into the Whirlwind."

Aksyonov graduated from the Leningrad Medical University in 1956
and worked as a doctor until switching full-time to writing in
1960.

His first novel, "The Colleagues," was published in 1959 in a
popular youth magazine, bringing him instant recognition. He soon
became one of the informal leaders of the so-called
Shestidesyatniki - which translates roughly as "the '60s
generation" - young Soviets who resisted the Communist Party's
cultural and ideological restrictions.

"It was amazing: We were being brought up robots, but we began
to listen to jazz," Aksyonov said in a 2007 documentary on him.

"Aksyonov's death is the death of an entire era," prominent
writer Viktor Yerofeyev told the ITAR-Tass news agency. "And those
are not just words - Aksyonov created the literary language of the
shestidesyatniki ... in the '60s he was an idol for the whole
country."

About 5 million copies of his books were published in the Soviet
Union until he fell out of official favor in the mid-1970s. In
1979, Aksyonov and several other young writers set up their own
journal called Metropol, but it was blocked from publishing and
Aksyonov was expelled from the official Union of Soviet Writers.

In 1990, amid openness and criticism of the repressive past
during the glasnost era and a year before the Soviet Union's
breakup, Aksyonov was reinstated as a Soviet citizen. He began to
visit frequently and his books were widely published in Russia.

In 1994, he published "The Moscow Saga," an epic trilogy that
described the lives of three generations of a Soviet family between
the 1917 Bolshevik revolution and Stalin's death in 1953. The book
was adapted for a popular television series in 2004.

Aksyonov is survived by his wife and a son.


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