Anatoly Rybakov died in his sleep in late December after a complicated heart operation in New York. He was 87. Rybakov was author of the legendary novel trilogy which began with Children of the Arbat, one of the milestones of perestroika. The novel was surely autobiographical – in 1933 Rybakov was arrested and sentenced to three years of exile for “counter-revolutionary agitation and propaganda.” Nonetheless, he joined the army when WWII began and participated in the storming of Berlin. His romantic children’s novel, Kortik (The Dagger), which he wrote at the age of 37, became a must-read for Soviet adolescents, as did subsequent works. Children of Arbat, stored in a desk for 20 years, was published in 1987 in serial form in Druzhba Narodov literary magazine. It became the first literary verdict on Stalin’s regime after the long years of stagnation and was read and passed from hand to hand in xeroxed copies. While critics may argue over the literary merits of the work, it had the advantage of being the first. As Itogi TV anchor Yevgeny Kiselyov justly put it, without having read the Children of Arbat, proponents of democracy would hardly have defended Yeltsin at the barricades during the August 1991 putsch.
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