Voinovich, Vladimir 1932–

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Voinovich, Vladimir 1932–

(Vladimir Nikolaevich Voinovich)

PERSONAL: Some sources transliterate middle name as Nikolayevich; born September 26, 1932, in Dushanbe, Tadzhik, U.S.S.R. (now Russia); emigrated to West Germany (now Germany), December 25, 1980; son of Nikolai Pavlovich (a journalist) and Rosa (a teacher; maiden name, Goichman) Voinovich; married wife, Valentina, 1957 (marriage ended, 1965); married Irina Braude (a teacher), 1965 (some sources say 1970); children: (first marriage) Marina, Pavel; (second marriage) Olga. Education: Attended Moscow Pedagogical Institute, 1957–59.

ADDRESSES: Agent—Leonard W. Schroeter, 540 Central Bldg., Seattle, WA 98104.

CAREER: Has worked as a herdsman on a collective farm; held a variety of other jobs during early career, including factory hand, locksmith, construction worker, railroad laborer, carpenter, aircraft mechanic, and editor of radio programs; writer, 1956–; expelled from Union of Soviet Writers, 1974, moved to the West, 1980; deprived of Soviet citizenship, 1981; Soviet citizenship restored, 1990. Visiting fellow, teaching Russian literature, at Princeton University, 1982–83; writer in residence at University of Southern California. Member of faculty at Institute of Fine Arts, Munich, West Germany (now Germany). Military service: Soviet Army, 1951–55.

MEMBER: PEN (French division), Mark Twain Society (honorary member), Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts.

AWARDS, HONORS: Ford Foundation grant, 1982; State Award of the Russian Federation, 2000; Sakharov Award, 2002.


My zdes' zhivem (also see below; short story; title means "We Live Here"), published in book form, (Moscow, Russia), 1963.

Khochu byt' chestnym (novella; title means "I Want to Be Honest"), published in Novy Mir, 1963.

Dva tovarishcha (also see below; novella; title means "Two Friends"), published in Novy Mir, 1964.

Vladychitsa (also see below; title means "The Sovereign Mistress"), [Moscow, Russia], 1969.

Stepen' doveriia (historical novel; title means "A Degree of Trust"), [Moscow, Russia], 1972.

Povesti (title means "Novellas"; contains My zdes' zhivem, Dva tovarishcha, and Vladychitsa), [Moscow, Russia], 1972.

Zhizn' neobychainye prikliucheniia soldata Ivana Chonkina (novel), YMCA Press (Paris, France), 1975, translation by Richard Lourie published as The Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin, Farrar, Straus, & Giroux (New York, NY), 1977, reprinted, Northwestern University Press (Evanston, IL), 1995.

Ivan'kiada, ili rasskaz o vselenii pisatelia Voinovicha v novuiu kvartiru, (autobiography), Ardis (Ann Arbor, MI), 1976, translation by David Lapeza published as The Ivankiad: The Tale of the Writer Voinovich's Installation in His New Apartment (autobiography) Farrar, Straus, & Giroux (New York, NY), 1977.

In Plain Russian: Stories (translation of Putem vzaimnoi perepiski), translated by Richard Lourie, Farrar, Straus, & Giroux (New York, NY), 1979.

Pretender to the Throne: The Further Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin (translation of Pretendent na prestol: Novye Prikiucheniia soldata Ivana Chonkina), translated by Richard Lourie, Farrar, Straus, & Giroux (New York, NY), 1981, Northwestern (Ann Arbor, MI) University Press, 1995.

Tribunal: Sudebnaia komediia v trekh deistviiakh Vladimir Voinovich, Overseas Publications Interchange (London, England), 1985.

Anti Sovietskii Sovietski Soyuz, Ardis (Ann Arbor, MI), 1985, translation by Richard Lourie published as The Anti-Soviet Soviet Union, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1986.

Moskva 2042, Ardis (Ann Arbor, MI), 1987, translation by Richard Lourie published as Moscow 2042, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich (San Diego, CA), 1987, reprinted with a new afterword by the author, 1990.

Shapka, Overseas Publiscations Interchange (London, England), translation by Susan Brownsberger published as The Fur Hat, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1989.

Khochu byt' chestnym: Povesti, Moskovskii rabochii (Moscow, Russia), 1989.

Delo No. 34840 (autobiography), Tekst (Moscow, Russia), 1994.

Zamysel: Kniga (biography), Vagrius (Moscow, Russia), 1995.

Maloe sobranie sochinenii: v 5 tomakh, Fabula (Moscow, Russia), 1995.

Skazki dlia vzroslykh, Vagrius (Moscow, Russia), 1996.

Zapakh Shokolada: Povesti i Rasskazy, Vagrius (Moscow, Russia), 1997.

Monumental'naia propaganda, Izd-vo "Izograf," 2000, translation by Andrew Bromfield published as Monumental Propaganda, Knopf (New York, NY), 2004.

Portret na fone mifa (title means "A Portrait against a Background of a Myth"), EKSMO-Press (Moscow, Russia), 2002.

Anisovetskii Sovetskii Soiuz: Dokumental' naia fantasmagoriia v 4-kh chastiakh, Izd-vo "Materik" (Moscow, Russia), 2002.

Obrazy i slova, Eksmo (Moscow, Russia), 2003.

Also author of poems, feuilletons, six movie scripts, and two plays, produced in the U.S.S.R., based on his novellas "Khochu byt' chestnym" and "Dva tovarishcha." Contributor of short stories to Novy Mir and of articles to journals. Voinovich's books have been translated into more than twenty languages.

ADAPTATIONS: Some of Voinovich's poems have been set to music and have became popular songs in Russia.

SIDELIGHTS: "I have been enraged and moved to tears by contemporary Russian prose and poetry, but Vladimir Voinovich is the only Russian writer who makes me laugh out loud," declared Susan Jacoby in the Saturday Review. Other critics have also expressed their appreciation of Voinovich's sense of humor. A New York Times Book Review contributor called Voinovich "the first genuine comic writer entirely produced by the Soviet system," while a Newsweek critic proclaimed him "the most drolly entertaining of the new Soviet dissident writers."

Voinovich's reputation as a comic writer began with his first two books published in the United States: The Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin and The Ivankiad: The Tale of the Writer Voinovich's Installation in His New Apartment. Suppressed in the Soviet Union, the former title was circulated secretly there and became an underground success. Peter S. Prescott, writing in Newsweek, speculated that Soviet officials found the novel subversive because "it suggests that amiable sloth and native cunning will prevail against bureaucracy," and "it illustrates what [Karl] Marx never understood: that even under socialism human nature remains an unregenerate constant."

The book recounts the tale of a good-natured bumpkin, Private Chonkin, who is ordered by his army officer to remain on a remote collective farm and guard a downed airplane. Headquarters soon forgets him, and Chonkin amuses himself by puttering in the collective's garden and making love to the local postmistress. Despite his simple and placid exterior, Chonkin can be shrewd and even valiant, as his last-ditch effort to prevent himself from being reclaimed by the army demonstrates. A reviewer for the New Yorker maintained that "as satire, it is a bit lame and obvious." On the other hand, Theodore Solotaroff observed in the New York Times Book Review: "The choice of a satirical mode was inspired, for it unearthed a first-rate comic talent that had been lurking beneath the sober gritty surface of his early realism and a new and powerful gift for rendering the transactions between reality and fantasy, the ordinary life haunted by the phantoms and phantasmagoria of the police state."

Having written a fictional story about one man's war against bureaucracy, Voinovich then proceeded to write a nonfiction account of his own battles with the Russian police state. The result was The Ivankiad, which a Newsweek reviewer described as a "mock epic account of the author's struggle with a powerful publishing bureaucrat over possession of a two-room apartment in the Writers' Housing Cooperative." The theme of this struggle, Anatole Shub explained in the New York Times Book Review, is "the contrast between Soviet pretense and reality, theory and practice … but the book's delight lies in the human-scale merriment with which Voinovich tells the tale. As in all great satires, the situation is both thoroughly real and utterly preposterous."

Voinovich's battle to gain a larger apartment was only one of his many struggles with Soviet bureaucrats. Although his writings were initially well received in the Soviet Union, he fell into official disfavor in the late 1960s. After writing a letter in 1974 defending fellow writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Voinovich was ousted from the Union of Soviet Writers and forbidden to earn his living as a writer. "I was expelled for trying to write with talent and to live with conscience," Voinovich once told CA. His name could no longer be mentioned in Russian encyclopedias and newspapers.

In retaliation, Voinovich saw fit to lampoon Soviet officialdom with satirical letters. When his telephone service was abruptly severed, Voinovich composed an open letter to the Minister of Communications which began: "It is with deep concern that I bring to your attention the fact that an enemy of the Relaxation of International Tension, the head of the Moscow telephone system, is in hiding somewhere in the field of national economy headed by you." He went on to note: "After all, not even the notorious George Meany has managed to disconnect a single telephone." On another occasion he wrote to the director of the new Soviet copyright agency. In order to shield Russian authors from Western influences, Voinovich recommended to the director that Moscow's prisons "with the necessary guards and police dogs [be] placed at your disposal."

In December 1980, Voinovich and his family left the Soviet Union and settled in West Germany. The books he has written since leaving his native country, including In Plain Russian: Stories, Moscow 2042 and The Fur Hat, reveal his continued love of provoking humor. Moscow 2042, for instance, features a dissident Russian writer living in Germany who gets the opportunity to make a fantastic plane voyage: six decades into the future to Moscow, which is called Moscowrep. Once there, he is hailed as a hero (for a book he has yet to write) by a totalitarian state where all literature is produced only to glorify the state's supreme leader, the Genialissimo. Voinovich also features the story of a dissident writer clearly modeled after Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who has moved to New England and turns out books so thick they are called "slabs."

The similarly satirical The Fur Hat is set in the Soviet Union during the mid-1980s and features Yefim Semyonovich Rakhlim, a mediocre novelist who produces politically correct works and who has achieved a measure of prosperity as a result. However, Yefim's happiness is challenged when the Soviet Writers' Union announces a plan to give each member a fur hat, with better hats (muskrat, for instance) going to the most-prominent writers and lesser hats (such as rabbit) going to the lesser writers. To his horror, Yefim discovers that he only merits a hat made from a common, domesticated tomcat. He then sets out to salvage his pride, making his way through the huge, endlessly corrupt Soviet bureaucracy. Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Maria Carlson commented that the novel "is a whirling kaleidoscope, a quick succession of juicy images taken from the life of the Soviet intelligentsia, its anti-Semitism and sexual mores, its use of psychological blackmail and fetishism for things foreign, the omnipresence of the secret police and the artificial importance of the Western news media."

With the fall of the Soviet Union, Voinovich regained his Russian citizenship in 1990 and began to divide his time between his home in Germany and his native country. Considering that the author's literary career had been built on satire and criticism of the Soviet Union, Christian Science Monitor critic Ron Charles wondered if Voinovich's work would come to seem irrelevant. Yet, according to Charles, Voinovich's comic novel Monumental Propaganda proves that the author still had much to offer. The main character is Aglaya, a woman with a fanatical love for Stalin and old-style communism, complete with gulags and political purges. When a public statement is made suggesting that some of Stalin's decisions may have been wrong, she regards the announcement as heresy. In the wake of the fall of communism, Aglaya moves the town's statue of the communist leader into her apartment and continues to honor Stalinism. She serves, according to Charles, as "a soberingly relevant strike against the rise of communist nostalgia in Russia." Furthermore, "the real target of all good satire, Voinovich reminds us, is human nature, which so far has proven disastrously resistant to purification through political reorganization."

Charles also stated that Voinovich's "satire of a woman who won't loosen her grip on an outmoded, deadly ideology is brilliant." Voinovich's book was also praised in the San Francisco Chronicle by Tom Nolan, who wrote: "It is, told in Voinovich's resourceful and acidic prose, at once surreal and plausible, cruel and hilarious, grotesque and heartbreaking, symbolic and real"



Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 10, 1979, Volume 49, 1988.

Voinovich, Vladimir, The Ivankiad: The Tale of the Writer Voinovich's Installation in His New Apartment, Farrar, Straus, & Giroux (New York, NY), 1977.


America's Intelligence Wire, August 27, 2004, Derek Gatopoulos, "Old Regime."

Atlantic, November, 1989, Phoebe-Lou Adams, review of The Fut Hat, p. 135.

BBC Monitoring International Reports, February 24, 2002, "Russian Orthodox Church Opposes Theatre Performance about Army."

Booklist, August, 2004, Frank Caso, review of Monumental Propaganda, p. 1902.

Christian Science Monitor, August 10, 2004, Ron Charles, review of Monumental Propaganda.

Hollins Critic, February, 1980, Jesse Zeldin, review of In Plain Russian, p. 16.

Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 2004, review of Monumental Propaganda, p. 469.

Library Journal, April 15, 2004, Heather Wright, review of Monumental Propaganda, p. 127.

Modern Language Review, October, 1999, Robert Russell, review of Putem vzaimnoi perepiski, p. 1171.

Nation, August 2, 2004, Boris Fishman, review of Monumental Propaganda, p. 46.

New Leader, December 11, 1989, Daniel Stern, review of The Fur Hat, p. 26.

New Republic, February 14, 2005, Jaroslaw Anders, review of Monumental Propaganda, p. 35.

Newsweek, February 14, 1977, Peter S. Prescott, review of The Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin, p. 87; August 1, 1977, review of The Ivankiad, p. 71; August 31, 1981, Peter S. Prescott, review of Pretender to the Throne: The Further Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin, p. 64.

New Yorker, March 7, 1977, review of The Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin, p. 117.

New York Times, March 26, 1977, review of The Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin, p. 17; December 4, 1980, Anthony Austin, "Soviet Grants Dissident Satirist a Passport," p. 6; September 4, 1981, John Leonard, review of Pretender to the Throne, p. 16; June 2, 1987, John Gross, review of Moscow 2042, p. 25; July 11, 1987, Serge Schmemann, "How the Soviet Future Appears to a Satirist," p. 15; November 28, 1989, Maria Carlson, review of The Fur Hat, p. 12.

New York Times Book Review, January 23, 1977, Theodore Solotaroff, review of The Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin, p. 6; August 7, 1977, Anatole Shub, review of The Ivankiad, p. 10; October 7, 1979, John Bayley, review of In Plain Russian, p. 9; September 20, 1981, Mordecai Richler, review of Pretender to the Throne, p. 14; August 31, 1986, S. Frederick Starr, review of The Anti-Soviet Soviet Union, p. 5; June 7, 1987, Mark D. Danner, interview with Vladimir Voinovich, p. 1; November 5, 1989, Maria Carlson, review of The Fur Hat, p. 12; August 8, 2004, Ken Kalfus, review of Monumental Propaganda.

Present Tense, March-April, 1990, Gerald Jonas, review of The Fur Hat, p. 76.

Publishers Weekly, May 24, 2004, review of Monumental Propaganda.

Russian Life, September-October, 2002, biographical information about Voinovich, p. 16; July-August, 2004, Paul E. Richardson, review of Monumental Propaganda, p. 61.

San Francisco Chronicle, July 18, 2004, Tom Nolan, review of Monumental Propaganda.

Saturday Review, September 17, 1977, Susan Jacoby, review of The Ivankiad, p. 37.

Time, January 3, 1977, review of The Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin, p. 80.

Times Literary Supplement, February 20, 1981, review of In Plain Russian, p. 200; October 9, 1981, review of Pretender to the Throne, p. 1153; April 22, 1988, Sally Laird, review of Moscow 2042, p. 453.

Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), May 31, 1987, review of Moscow 2042, p. 7.

Washington Post Book World, August 19, 1979, review of In Plain Russian, p. 7; August 30, 1981, review of Pretender to the Throne, p. 5; May 24, 1987, review of Moscow 2042, p. 3; November 25, 1990, review of The Fur Hat, p. 12; July 25, 2004, Anne Applebaum, review of Monumental Propaganda, p. 2.

World Literature Today, autumn, 1990, Jo Ann Worswick, review of The Fur Hat, p. 661; spring, 2002, Philippe D. Radley, review of Monumental Propaganda, p. 226; July-September, 2003, Tatyana Novikov, review of Portret na fone mifa, p. 124.


All Curled Up with a Good Book, http://www.curledup.com/ (December 12, 2005), review of Monumental Propaganda.