Kaverin, Benjamin Aleksandrovich

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KAVERIN, BENJAMIN ALEKSANDROVICH (pseudonym of Benjamin A. Zilberg ; 1902–1990), Soviet Russian author. The son of a musician, Kaverin was born in Pskov. His training as a historian and specialist in Oriental languages left a strong imprint on his choice of literary themes. Several of his books have foreign settings, both eastern and western. Thus the plot of The Great Game (1926) involves both Englishmen and Ethiopians. Others deal with historical subjects, such as Baron Brambeus (1929), a scholarly biography of Osip Senkovski, one of the most picturesque figures in 19th-century Russian literature. At the same time Kaverin was one of the few Russian detective-story writers, and some of his stories – especially those published in the permissive atmosphere of the 1920s – make good use of many of the devices of the genre. One of the most notable is Konets khazy ("The End of the Gang," 1926), a captivating account of the Leningrad underworld.

Kaverin's most significant novel, Khudozhnik neizvesten (1931; The Unknown Artist, 1947), was a plea for the maintenance of the dignity of the individual in a collectivist society and for the preservation of beauty in a utilitarian age. Ispolneniye zhelaniy (1935; The Larger View, 1938) dealt with the problems of adjustment facing an intellectual in Soviet society. His long novel Dva kapitana (1946; Two Captains, 1957) was a great favorite with Russian youngsters when it was originally serialized between 1938 and 1944. He received the Stalin Prize for it in 1946. Aside from introducing Jewish allusions in some of his works, he wrote, for the *Jewish Antifascist Committee, a biography of Hero of the Soviet Union Fisanovich, and "The Uprising in Sobibor" together with P. Antokolski. In post-Stalinist Russia Kaverin was among the leading exponents of liberalization, frequently incurring the wrath of the Stalinist establishment. His later works include Sem par nechistykh ("Seven Pairs of the Unclean," 1962), which describes inmates of a Soviet concentration camp fighting for the right to defend their homeland in the ranks of the Soviet army, and speeches published by Samizdat in 1967.


G. Struve, Soviet Russian Literature 191750 (1951), 107–11, 275f., 360; M. Slonim, Modern Russian Literature (1953), 294f., 297; M. Friedberg and R.A. Maguire (eds.), A Bilingual Collection of Russian Short Stories, 2 (1965), 89–211.

[Maurice Friedberg]