Kuznetsov, Anatoli

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Nationality: Russian (defected to England, 1966). Born: Kiev, Ukraine, 18 August 1929. Career: Wrote for newspapers; associated with construction of the Dnieper River hydroelectric project; worked as a laborer in Siberia. Died: 13 June 1979.


Novel (autobiographical)

Babii Iar: Roman-dokument. 1966; as Babi Yar: A Documentary Novel, 1966; as Babi Yar: A Document in the Form of a Novel, 1970.


Prodolzhenie legendy; zapiski molodogo cheloveka: Povest. 1957; as Sequel to a Legend: From the Diary of a Young Man, 1959; as The Journey, 1984.

Selenga: Rasskazy. 1961.

U sebia doma. 1964.

Ogon: Roman. 1969.


Critical Study:

"The White Hotel: D.M. Thomas's Considerable Debt to Anatoli Kuznetsov and Babi Yar " by Lady Falls Brown, in South Central Review: The Journal of the South Central Modern Language Association, 2(2), Summer 1985, pp. 60-79.

* * *

Anatoli Kuznetsov made an important contribution to the literature and knowledge of the Holocaust primarily through Babi Yar, which he described as a documentary in the form of a novel. Although most of his previous fictional works were on completely different subjects and later he focused on political commentary, the content and history of the publication of Babi Yar in essence became the keynote of Kuznetsov's life and works.

Kuznetsov, a non-Jewish Ukrainian, worked as a professional writer for much of his life. He wrote for newspapers while he was taking part in the construction of the Dnieper River hydroelectric project; he was also a laborer in Siberia. His early novels focus on problems in the lives of construction workers and on the process of growing to adulthood. Kuznetsov gained recognition in the Soviet Union in particular for Sequel to a Legend (1957), which was one of the earliest works of the genre of "youth stories" that became popular in the Soviet Union at that time. Other works by Kuznetsov deal with similar subjects, including Selenga.

Kuznetsov wrote the novel Babi Yar (1966, expanded version published 1970) based on his experiences from ages 12 to 14, when the Nazis occupied Kiev from fall 1941 to fall 1943. Even during the occupation period he was writing some notes for the book, which dealt with the massacre and mass burial of nearly the entire Jewish population of Kiev at the Babi Yar ravine during the beginning of the occupation, as well as with the hardships suffered by the average civilians in Kiev at that time. Although Soviet censorship had greatly affected his previous works as well, the extremely censored publication of Babi Yar in a serialized version in the journal Yunost' (Youth) was one of the major factors that influenced his decision to defect to Great Britain in 1969. At that time Kuznetsov was at the height of his reputation in the Soviet literary establishment as a member of the editorial board of Yunost', but claiming that the censored publication of his work had eliminated nearly half of what he had wished to say, Kuznetsov sewed 35-millimeter negatives of his writings into the lining of his clothing when he defected so that he could republish the works outside the Soviet Union. Under the pen name of A. Anatolii, he published an expanded version of Babi Yar, and critics in the Soviet Union promptly declared him a traitor.

In both its censored and uncensored versions, Babi Yar brought recognition to Kuznetsov inside and outside the Soviet Union because of its revelation of the full impact of the Nazi occupation of Kiev and other parts of Ukraine to the world. Although Ilya Ehrenburg's work The Storm in 1948 had depicted the Nazi occupation graphically, until the 1960s the Soviet government had not officially recognized the massacre of Jews and other citizens at Babi Yar with any type of memorial. Kuznetsov's novel, along with Yevgeny Yevtushenko 's poem "Babii Yar" (1961) and Dmitri Shostakovich's choral 13th Symphony (1962), expanded awareness of the massacre and helped to provide a clear picture of the atrocities taking place in areas beyond central Europe. Furthermore, Kuznetsov's point of view as a non-Jew is vital for placing the massacre at Babi Yar into the context of the continuing repression that affected nearly all citizens of the Soviet Union, whether by Nazis or by the Soviet government itself. Just as Yevtushenko's poem stresses the common humanity and dignity of the Jewish people and other citizens who were murdered at Babi Yar, Kuznetsov's work emphasizes the ways that both Jewish people and non-Jews in Kiev and elsewhere in the Soviet Union are linked together through their common experiences and relations as friends and neighbors. He writes that in essence only the "nationality" designation in their identification documents indicated any difference, and even this was arbitrary and questionable, for in many cases Russians, Ukrainians, Jews, and other nationalities in Soviet society were all intermixed. Kuznetsov rightly fears that the whole world can become a Babi Yar unless all people know of what has happened, for nobody of any nationality is immune to the chaos, horror, and senselessness of war and genocide.

—Alisa Gayle Mayor

See the essay on Babi Yar.