May 01, 2002

Philosophical Writer

Sixty-five years ago, on May 27, 1937, the writer Andrei Bitov was born in Leningrad. Widely considered one of the best Soviet writers of the 1960s, Bitov came to literature the hard way. A 1962 graduate of the Mining Institute, he worked for a time as drilling master in exploratory geological expeditions. Yet, by 1963, he had totally switched to literary work.

A first collection of stories, Big Balloon (1963), earned Bitov popular acclaim from readers and sharp criticism from official critics. Readers were as impressed as critics were distressed by Bitov’s truthful portrayal of Soviet reality. Thus, his next books of stories (Such a Long Childhood and Dacha District), were eagerly anticipated. Apothecary Island followed soon thereafter.

Arguably Bitov’s best work of fiction is Pushkin House. First published in the US in 1978, it had to wait until the era of glasnost to be published in Russia’s literary journal Novy Mir. Like much of Bitov’s work, Pushkin House is part story, part philosophical essay, in this case on the legacies of Stalinism, on severed ties with Russia’s literary past, on the future of literature.

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