September 01, 2002

Vladimir Voynovich

September 26 is the 70th birthday of Vladimir Voinovich (born 1932), one of the most influential dissident writers of the late Soviet era.

Voinovich made his writing debut in 1960 as an editor with Soviet Radio. There he wrote the lyrics of the popular songs “I Believe, My Friends, Caravan of Rockets” and “Rulla, You Rulla.” In 1961 he published his first short story, “We Live Here,” in the influential literary journal Novy Mir and was immediately branded one of the most promising young writers. It was the era of The Thaw, and Voinovich published a myriad of short stories, all characterized by lightly-veiled social criticism and anti-idealism, including “A Half Kilometer Long,” “Two Comrades,” “By Way of Mutual Correspondence,” and “I’d Be Honest if They Let Me.”

But, with the publication of his now-famous novel, The Life and Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin—a parody on the mass Soviet literature on heroism—Voinovich was branded as a dissident writer. He began writing the novel in 1963, and it was published abroad, first in part in 1969, then in toto in Paris in 1975. Meanwhile, Voinovich got himself into trouble by signing the petitions for Sinyavsky-Daniel and Galanskov, and for criticizing the 1973 formation of VAAP (a government body that would license foreign rights to Soviet writers’ works). In February 1974, Voinovich was expelled from the Union of Soviet Writers (and admitted to the French PEN Club). He lost all the perks associated with official acceptance as a writer and was forcibly relocated from his apartment; his prestigious flat was given to the then famous Soviet apparatchik S. S. Ivanko.

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