Kazakov, Iurii (Pavlovich)

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KAZAKOV, Iurii (Pavlovich)

Nationality: Russian. Born: Moscow, 8 August 1927. Education: Gnesin Music School, Moscow, 1946-51; Gorky Institute of Literature, Moscow, 1953-58. Career: Instructor, Moscow Conservatory; musician, 1952-54; writer, from 1952. Member: Soviet Writer's Union. Died: 1982.


Short Stories

Pervoe svidanie [First Meeting]. 1955.

Manka. 1958.

Adam i Eva [Adam and Eve]. 1958.

Arkturgonchii pes. 1958; as Arcturus, The Hunting Dog, 1968.

Zapakh khleba. 1958; as The Smell of Bread and Other Stories, 1965.

Trali-Vali [Silly-Billy]. 1959.

Na Polustanke. 1959; as The Small Station. 1959.

Po Doroge [On the Road]. 1961.

Tarusskie stranitsy. 1961.

Tropiki na pechke [Tropics in the Stove]. 1962.

Rasskazy [Stories]. 1962.

Legkaia Zhizn [Easy Life]. 1963.

Krasnaia ptitsa [Beautiful Bird]. 1963.

Goluboe i zelenoe [Blue and Green], with Rasskazy i ocherk. 1963.

Selected Short Stories (in Russian), edited by George Gibian. 1963.

Going to Town, and Other Stories. 1964.

Dvoe v dekabre [Two in December]. 1966.

Kak ia stroil dom [How I Built a House]. 1967.

Osen' v dubovykh lesakh. 1969; as Autumn in the Oakwoods, 1970.

Vo sne ty gor'ko plakal [You Bitterly Cried in Your Sleep]. 1977.

Olen'i roga: rasskazy [The Deer and the Horns]. 1980.

Rasskazy. 1983.

Poedemte v Lopshen'gu. 1983.

Dve Nochi [Two Nights]. 1986.


Severnyi dnevnik (travelogue). 1961; as A Northern Diary, 1973.


Critical Studies:

in Soviet Literature in the Sixties by M. Hayward and E. L. Crowley, 1964; "Kazakov: The Pleasures of Isolation" by Karl Kramer, in Slavic and East European Journal 10, Spring 1966; "Kazakov" by George Gibian, in Major Soviet Writers, edited by Edward J. Brown, 1973; "The Short Stories of Kazakov" by Samuel Orth, in Russian Language Journal 32, Spring 1978; in A History of Post-War Soviet Writings by G. Svirski, 1981.

* * *

Iurii Kazakov published no more than 35 short stories in all, and yet this small corpus of work epitomizes the literature of the post-Stalin "Thaw" period, ushered in by Khrushchev's secret speech to the 20th Party Congress in February of 1956. The mere act of writing a short story represented a major change; Stalinist prose writing had been dominated by long novels with "positive" heroes and enough space for the author to tie up all ideological loose ends. Kazakov's stories are the very reverse of this—allusive, ambiguous, and open-ended. His heroes and heroines are indecisive, unsure, vulnerable, and isolated, both physically and emotionally. They include a buoy-keeper on a Northern river (Yegor in "Fiddle Faddle"), a post girl on the White Sea (in Manka), a blind dog (in Arkurgonchii pes [Arcturus, The Hunting Dog ]), a plain, provincial school teacher (in "The Plain Girl"), and the ailing Chekhov, compelled to live apart from his wife in Yalta (in "That Accursed North"). Like Chekhov, whom he acknowledged as a major influence on his work, Kazakov offers no easy solutions. Sonia in "The Plain Girl" is painfully aware of her lack of physical attractiveness; no one asks her to dance at the party with which this story, like a number of Kazakov's stories, opens. Her subsequent encounter with a drunken—and equally lonely—young man ends in tears. Although the experience gives her a new realization of her worth as a human being, she will still be lonely and plain.

This story, like many of Kazakov's stories, is set in provincial Russia. Kazakov, whose parents were from the provinces, had a particular love of the pomor'e area along the White Sea coast, and he reproduces the local dialect in a number of stories. The contrast between the provinces and Moscow, a recurrent theme in Russian literature, is seen to best effect in "The Smell of Bread," three chapters of which are set in Moscow and the provinces. The sophisticated Muscovite Dusia returns, somewhat reluctantly, to the village where her mother had just died. Only then does she realize the extent of her loss and the degree of her estrangement from her roots. This story, itself much influenced by Konstantin Paustovskii's The Telegram, prefigures much of the work of the Village Prose writers of the 1970s, particularly in its emphasis on the word rodnoi, meaning "native" or, in this context, "Russian." It demonstrates, too, that Kazakov is essentially a transitional writer. He looks back to nineteenth-and early twentieth-century classics: Lermontov, who is the protagonist of his only historical short story, "Zvon bregeta" ("The Watch Chime"); Turgenev, whose A Sportsman's Sketches (1852) clearly influenced the nature descriptions in such stories as "Old Hunting Grounds"; Anton Chekhov; Ivan Bunin, whose delicate treatment of love is echoed in Adam I Eva ("Adam and Eve") and Dvoe v dekabre ("Two in December"); and Mikhail Prishvin, to whom Arcturus, the Hunting Dog—probably Kazakov's most famous story—is dedicated.

It might be alleged that Kazakov's scope is limited, that he ploughs a very narrow furrow. What is indisputable, however, is that his handling of language is masterly. He exploits all the resources of the Russian language, particularly its prefixes, suffixes, and diminutives, in a way that it is difficult to convey in translation. For instance, every Kazakov story is saturated in sounds, which are described either by standard literary words, or by neologisms of his own invention based on standard roots, or by onomatopoeic renditions. The latter, though striking, are perhaps the least successful of Kazakov's ways of conveying sound, tending too often to resemble the attempts made in ornithological handbooks to transcribe phonetically the song of birds.

Smells also dominate Kazakov's stories—the smells of nature, people, places, and products. Kazakov regarded smell as the most evocative of the senses and even made a blind dog (the hero of Arcturus, The Hunting Dog) totally dependent on its sense of smell in order to survive. Here again the changes rung by Kazakov on the Russian root "pakh" (smell) mark him as a major stylist.

In Kazakov's stories the unspoken is frequently more important than the spoken. The unspoken is conveyed by body language and facial gesture—the raising or lowering of eyes, or the offering, refusing, lighting, or smoking of cigarettes. This is particularly marked in the exchanges between Sonia and Nikolai in "The Plain Girl" and between the unnamed couple in Na Polustanke (The Small Station). Dismissed as unacceptably "pessimistic" by the Brezhnevite literary bureaucracy, Kazakov has, in the years since his death in 1982, attracted increasing attention both in Russia and in the West.

—Michael Pursglove