Slutsky, Boris Abromovich

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(19191986), Russian poet and memoirist.

Brought up in Kharkov, Boris Abramovich Slutsky moved to Moscow in 1937 to study law and soon began a simultaneous literature course. On the outbreak of World War II he volunteered and went into battle as an infantry officer. Soon wounded in action, he spent the remainder of the war as a political officer, joining the Party in 1943. He ended up as a highly decorated Guards major, having campaigned all the way to Austria.

In 1945 he returned to Moscow and after convalescence made a living writing radio scripts, but in 1948 he was deprived of this work because of his Jewish origin. Sponsored by Ilya Erenburg, he was accepted in the Union of Writers in 1957 and thereafter was a professional poet. He made a lasting reputation with unprecedentedly unheroic poems about the war, but he was soon upstaged by the more flamboyant younger poets of the Thaw under Nikita Khrushchev, poets more concerned with the future than with the past. Slutsky steadily continued publishing original poetry and also translations, until on the death of his wife in 1977 at which point he suffered a mental collapse, which was underlain by the lingering effects of his wounds. Thereafter he was silent. From the beginning of his career Slutsky acquiesced in the censoring of his work, never moving into dissidence; notoriously, in 1958 he spoke and voted for the expulsion of Pasternak from the Union of Writers, an action for which he privately never forgave himself.

After Slutsky's death, it was found that well over half of his poetry had never been published. The appearance of this suppressed work in the decade after he died revealed that Slutsky had been by far the most important poet of his generation. In hundreds of short lyrics he had chronicled his life and times, paying attention to everything from high politics to the routines of everyday life and tracing the evolution of his society from youthful idealism through terrible trials to decline and imminent fall. He created a distinctive poetic language, purged of conventional poetic ornament, that has been highly influential. His prose memoirs about his military service, equally plain and unconventional, were only published fifty years after the end of the war.

See also: thaw, the; union of soviet writers; world war ii


Slutsky, Boris. (1999). Things That Happened, ed. and tr. G. S. Smith. Glas (Moscow, Russia), English; v. 19. Moscow, GLAS; Chicago: Ivan Dee.

Gerald Smith