Vogau, Boris Andreyevich 1894-1938 (Boris Pilnyak; Boris Andreyevich Pilniak; Boris Pilnjak)

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VOGAU, Boris Andreyevich 1894-1938 (Boris Pilnyak; Boris Andreyevich Pilniak; Boris Pilnjak)


Born October 11, 1894, in Mozhaisk, Moscow Province, Russia; died in Stalin's labor camps April 21, 1938 (some sources say 1941); son of a veterinarian; married Maria Sokolova, 1917 (marriage ended); married Olga Scherbinovskaia, 1925 (marriage ended); married Kira Andronikashvili (an actress), 1933; children (first marriage): one son, one daughter. Education: Attended University of Kolomna; Moscow Commercial Institute, degree in economics, 1920.


Writer from 1915. Arrested during Stalinist purges, 1937.


All-Russian Writer's Union (president 1929).


S poslednim parokhodom i drugie rasskazy (title means "With the Last Steamer and Other Stories"), 1918.

Ivan-da-Mar'ia (stories; title means "Ivan and Mary"), 1922.

Byl'e (stories; title means "Bygones"), 1922.

Golyi god, 1922, translation by Alec Brown published as The Naked Year, 1928, translated by A. R. Tulloch, 1975.

Nikola-na-Posadiakh (stories; title means "As It Was"), 1923.

Povesti o chernom khlebe (title means "Stories about Black Bread"), 1923.

Mashiny i volki (title means "Machines and Wolves"), 1923-1924.

Mat'syra zemlia (title means "Mother Earth"), 1924.

Angliiskie rasskazy (title means "English Tales"),1924.

Tales of the Wilderness (includes "The Snow," "A Year of Their Lives," "A Thousand Years," "Over the Ravine," "Always on Detachment," "The Snow Wind," "Wind," "The Forest Manor," "The Bielokonsky Estate," "Death," "The Heirs," and "The Crossways"), translated by F. O'Dempsey, 1925.

Rasskazy (short stories), 1927, 2nd revised edition, 1933.

Povest' nepogashennoi luny, 1927, translation by Beatrice Scott published as The Tale of the, Unextinguished Moon, 1967.

(With A. Rogozina) Kitaiskaia sud'ba cheloveka, 1927, translation by Vera T. Reck and Michael Green published as Chinese Story and Other Tales, 1988.

Ivan-Moskva, 1792, translation by A. Schwartzman published as Ivan Moscow, 1935.

Raplesnutoe vremia. Rasskazy (title means "Spilled Time: Stories"), 1927, reprinted, 1966.

Krasnoe derevo (novella), 1929, translation published as "Mahogany," in Mother Earth and Other Stories, 1968.

Shtoss v zhizn (title means "A Chance on Life"), 1929.

Volga vpadaet v Kaspiiskoe more, 1930, translation by Charles Malamuth published as The Volga Falls to the Caspian Sea, 1931, published as The Volga Flows to the Caspian Sea, 1932.

Rasskazy (stories), 1932.

Rozhdenie cheloveka (novella; title means "The Birth of Man"), 1935.

Izbrannye rasskazy (selected stories), 1935.

Sozrevanie plodov (title means "The Ripening of Fruit"), 1936.

Mother Earth and Other Stories, translated by Vera T. Reck and Michael Green, 1968.

Dvoiniki (title means "Doubles"), 1983.

Romany (title means "Novels"), 1990.

Zashtat (title means "Back of Beyond"), 1991.


Sobranie sochinenii (collected works), 3 volumes, 1923.

Korni iaponskogo solntsa (title means "Roots of the Japanese Sun"), 1926.

Kamni I korni (title means "Stones and Roots"), 1927.

Sobranie sochinenii, 8 volumes, 1929-1930.

O'kei: amerikanskii roman (title means "OK: An American Novel"), 1932.

Izbrannye proizvedeniia (selected works), edited by V. Novikov, 1976.

Tselaia zhizn': Izbrannaia proza (title means "A Whole Life: Selected Prose"), 1988.

Chelovecheskii veter (title means "Human Wind"), 1990.

Rasskazy, povesti, romany, (includes complete version of Solianoi ambar), Sovetskii Pisatel, 1990.

Tret'ia stolitsa (title means "The Third Capital"), 1992.


Published under the name Boris Pilnyak, Boris Andreevich Vogau's chaotic, romantic fiction derives from Russia's tumultuous revolutionary period; in it, he describes the confused personal experience of a grand historical shift. As Trotsky explained in Literature and Revolution: "Pilnyak takes the Revolution in its periphery, in its back yards, in the village, and mainly in the provincial towns. His Revolution is a small-town one …A vital part of [it] is grasped with a keen eye, but as if in a hurry, as if rushing past.…The meaningless dreary life of a filthy provincial philistine perishing in the midst of the October storm, is painted by Pilnyak …as a series of bright spots …The general impression is always the same—a restless dualism."

Vogau was born on September 12, 1894, in a town of the Moscow province. His father was a country veterinarian and a Volga German, and both parents were Populists during the 1880s and 1890s. Vogau's work was influenced not only by his experiences in small Russian towns, but also by his experience of revolutionary fervor and his study of literature. As Michael Falchicov remarked in The Reference Guide to World Literature: Vogau "belongs to that transitional generation of Russian writers whose work and life were fundamentally determined by the Bolshevik Revolution and its outcome. Born into the radical intelligentsia and brought up in central Russian provincial towns, [his] earliest influences were the mystical modernists Belyi and Remizov and, more distantly, Dostoevskii and Leskov."

Vogau became a writer early in life—he was first published at the age of twenty-one, and by age twenty-eight he published Golyi god, his renowned civil war novel. The novel traces the effects of the revolution on Russia's provincial areas, where the delicate moral and social fabric of life easily unravels. Falchikov noted: "The striking features of Golyi god are its verbal and stylistic inventiveness and its extraordinary atmosphere of bold youthful enthusiasm and horror and suffering. There is little plot and no obvious heroic figure-unless it is Russia." Irving Howe, writing in the New Republic, was more skeptical: "Golyi god is aggressively experimental, and now suffers from the fact that few things in literature date more than the bold experiment of yesterday." The novel was extremely popular, however, and its romantic view of the revolution placed Vogau in difficult straits with Soviet authorities.

Howe explained that Vogau "had a fine gift for getting into trouble. His eye for social and moral fissures led him to themes of danger. As a man, he seems to have been rather timorous, again and again recanting the 'heresies' that his imagination could not resist.… Whereas the Bolsheviks saw Russia through the prism of revolution, …[Vogau] saw the Revolution through the prism of Russian history." Vogau's success, then, led him into struggles with the Soviet government; Howe later explained: "Not in command of a coherent ideology, [he] exposed himself guilelessly to the ideologies swirling across Russia in the years before Stalin shut everything down."

Following Vogau's success in the early 1920s, he wrote prolifically in the complicated, literate style Soviets dubbed "Pilnyakism." Evelyn Bristol, in the Encyclopedia of World Literature, described this approach: "The complex and unconventional style …features the liberal use of such devices as the frame story, the flashback, enigmatic narrative transitions, lyrical digressions, leitmotifs, symbols, insertions of documents, dialectical renderings, wordplay, and typographical peculiarities." This complex style, filled with chaotic shifts, further angered the Soviets, who insisted that Vogau describe Russia in a more synthesized, orderly fashion. Only by representing Russian life more coherently, moving toward the happy conclusion of Communism, could Vogau continue his art.

Vogau continued to write in his own way, however, and his writing increasingly angered authorities. In the title story of Povest' nepogashennoi luny (1927, "Tale of the Unextinguished Moon"), Vogau writes about a military leader who undergoes surgery for the Party and dies in the process. Falchikov explained: "The conflict between science and nature is an important theme in this story, but most critics detected a thinly fictionalized account of the circumstances surrounding the death of army commander M. F. Frunze, widely rumoured to be the Stalin regime's first 'medical murder.'" Howe remarked, incredulously: "'The Unbending Man' [the politician of Vogau's story], clearly a facsimile of Stalin, is shown as a heartless, paranoid dictator, while the simple, decent victim, Gavrilov, bears a close resemblance to Frunze. How [Vogau] …, who by then had already experienced the bitterness of political gang-ups, could have permitted himself to write this story, and how [the journal] Novy Mir could have risked printing it, I do not understand." Vogau quickly recanted, calling the story "the grossest of errors," but his fate with the regime was sealed.

When Beatrice Scott translated Tale of the Unextinguished into English in 1967, Americans enjoyed Vogau's boldness. J. K. Davidson, writing in the New York Times Book Review, commented: Vogau "is a masterly stylist" who "describes society at the moment when it has no system and is uncertain of its values.…his stories are somber, not melancholic; but they have the effect of creating in us an almost unbearable melancholy at the thought of what upheaval meant 50 years ago in Russia and what it would mean again, in another time, in another place." Howe, reviewing the translation for Harper's, wrote: "Though a literary modernist, [Vogau] …also had something in him of the ancient tribal bard. He was a marvelous storyteller, a spellbinder, an enchanted rhetorician.…Some of his stories are simply magnificent." The reviewer went on to note that the title story "is one of the most terrifying pieces ever written in the Soviet Union." Stalin arrested Vogau during the purges in 1937, after the author has published more of his work abroad. Accused of "anti-Soviet activities," Vogau was taken into the Soviet work camps; some believe he was assassinated in 1938, though some sources claim he died after several years in the camps.

Perhaps most disturbing about Vogau's turbulent career—and ultimate martyrdom—-is that his complicated, chaotic, allusive writing style reflected his supposed political stance. Vogau's writing not only exposed political crimes, but also linguistically evoked the experience of political displacement. His crime—or virtue—was in what he allowed others to feel.



Encyclopedia of World Literature in the Twentieth Century, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.

Reference Guide to World Literature, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1995.*