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Ok, fine. Here's a real translation. Tom Send a noteboard - 22/09/2015 09:49:58 PM

I decided to write a short review of two works of Aksyonov in Russian. My American friends won't read ever read them anyway, and even if they suddenly decide to read them, they won't understand them. How can one possible understand the shestidesyatniki ("Sixties") movement in translation? The shestidesyatniki are all about poetry (even though Aksyonov himself is a prose writer), and poetry doesn't translate. These people are a part of Russian culture that Americans just won't understand (if they don't speak Russian, of course). I am certain that I've missed a couple stylistic or grammatical errors because I don't write essays like this in Russian that often. I apologize beforehand for them.

Ticket to the Stars

The novel Ticket to the Stars was written not so long ago, in 1961. It was one of Aksyonov's first works, and the shestidesyatnik author concentrates his attention on the lifestyle of the generation younger than his own. In the 1960s the novel was considered scandalous because the main characters were part of the stilyagi ("bad style") movement, called each other chuvak (note: an acronym that translates as "a person who respects high American culture") and by their own admission listened to Western music that had been copied on X-ray charts. They didn't fit in to typical Soviet life, they had sex before and outside marriage and they wandered aimlessly around the wide open spaces of their endless Motherland.

Looking at the novel now, only 50 years later, it seems a bit banal, trivial and boring. After all, Aksyonov still had to obtain permission from Soviet censors to publish his book, and even at the height of the Khrushchev "Thaw" that meant that he had to praise simple Soviet workers and their everyday monotonous labor. The main hero, Dima, leaves the stilyagi and ultimately finds happiness at a fishing commune on the Baltic Sea, where he has time to sing the praises of the feudal (one might say even antediluvian) system of "work days" (i.e., payment in kind). Aksyonov tortures his readers with lengthy descriptions of herring fishing in the worst traditions of socialist realism. Dima's older brother, Viktor, turns down the chance to become an academic and speaks out against his professors after he discovers that their theses are incorrect. At the end of the novel he "heroically" dies while fulfilling a secret mission for the nation of the Soviets. Everything comes across as too clean and too pompous. Even Dima's girlfriend, Galya, who ran away from Dima in the arms of a movie director, comes back to him and regrets having left him.

Despite this, through the bullshit of Soviet propaganda the truth still comes through. Aksyonov in many places openly appeals to the older generation to understand the younger one and their "deviance" from the expected behavior of Soviet citizens. Even if his characters are in places too good, there is an element of truth in the fact that the younger generation of the time sought, and even demanded, a level of sincerity from life, and as result they were in contempt of the falsehood they felt in their parents' generation. They lived after the era of arrests and executions of the Terror and only vaguely remembered Stalin's last years, and they couldn't understand the willingness of their elders to come to terms with injustice.

It's clear that the novel could not be published under Stalin. Despite the superficial adherence of the book to socialist realism with all of its disgusting consequences, Ticket to the Stars remains a unique divergence from books in the style of Cement and How The Steel was Tempered, even if it doesn't match up to completely anti-Soviet ideas, such as those in Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago or Solzhenitsyn's short story A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, which both came out at around the same time (Zhivago, of course, only in underground samizdat form and overseas).

Dima's romance with Galya was written well, and the entire plot line of the young friends was well written prior to the point when they "grew up" and became commune workers. Despite this, my personal impression from the novel Ticket to the Stars was that it has not aged well.

A Mysterious Passion

The novel A Mysterious Passion was the last novel written by the late Aksyonov, and is very different from his early works. This book is something of a memoir of his life and the life of his friends, even though he changes the names slightly so that the reader understands that his novel is a free interpretation of actual facts and not a work of non-fiction.

The title of the novel appears in many places in the book and as a result it is difficult to say with certainty what exactly it refers to. However, I believe that the best interpretation of the meaning is in the phrase:

Yet each of us thirsts to step away from vanity and express his devotion to his mysterious passion, poetry.

As I wrote in the introduction to these reviews, the shestidesyatniki are poetry. All of the major figures in the book - Vysotsky, Okudzhava, Yevtushenko, Rozhdestvensky, Voznesensky and Akhmadulina are in their hearts poets. Aksyonov himself is written into his novel, but as the only prose writer. He is acting in the role of the scribe who is tasked
with leaving a chronicle of the lives of the "wonderful generation". He knows how the lived, loved, and fought against Soviet reality with all their being.

The first part of the novel juxtaposes two political events of the 1960s (Khrushchev's suppression of young artists in March 1963 and the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1968) with the carefree, wild and liberated lifestyle of the main characters during the summer at Koktebel in Crimea, replete with vivid descriptions of their creative evenings, their romantic intrigues and their true friendship. The author jumps around chronologically, ahead, then back, but the plot line of the book doesn't suffer from this. Aksyonov in his old age didn't glorify anyone - all of his friends are depicted with all of their failings and weaknesses. For example, Aksyonov paints a picture of Yevtushenko (or, as Aksyonov renamed him for the novel, Yan Tushinsky) as a selfish and slippery person, but who is nonetheless ready for sacrifice in the name of his principles. Rozhdestvensky, even though he is a bit too proper and at times naive, is still fearless and always defends his friends.

The novel is flawlessly written, and from time to time I had the urge to get out a book of poetry of Rozhdestvensky, or Akhmadulina, or put on the songs of Vysotsky or Okudzhava as a supplement to the novel itself. The entire book is steeped in the spirit of a vanished, crazy time, and all of the personalities are so sharply drawn that it seems the reader knows them personally after the first 50 pages or so. The book is filled with memorable passages, such as:

There reigned an elevated mood characteristic of those years when poems were valued above hockey.

and

One never needs to look for anything: everything that one finds happens without looking anyway.

The second part of the novel is beautiful in its tragedy. The explosion and flourishing of creativity that pushed the shestidesyatniki forward could not last forever, and Aksyonov writes about how their happy company fell apart in the 1970s and 1980s. The author warns the reader that the second part will be sombre by beginning it with Vysotsky's funeral. Some people die before their time, others emigrate, still others are forced into exile (including Aksyonov himself), while friends argue and have fallings out.

At the end, it all vanished into the past, but it left a vivid and irreplaceable mark on the spirit of humanity. It is telling that lines from a famous poem by Akhmadulina close the photo album at the end of the novel:

And now, from tears, from darkness
From the poor ignorance of the past
The wonderful features of my friends
Appear and melt away again.

This fantastic book about fantastic people left an impression on me that the shestidesyatniki were the last spark of something lost in the creative history of humanity. They were the last generation in Russia upon whom television and movies hadn't changed so much as to push away high culture. They had no Internet, no smartphones, none of the things that let us so easily distract ourselves every day from real living. They lived, loved, and fought with sincerity. May God grant that we all might live so fully.

Political correctness is the pettiest form of casuistry.

ἡ δὲ κἀκ τριῶν τρυπημάτων ἐργαζομένη ἐνεκάλει τῇ φύσει, δυσφορουμένη, ὅτι δὴ μὴ καὶ τοὺς τιτθοὺς αὐτῇ εὐρύτερον ἢ νῦν εἰσι τρυπώη, ὅπως καὶ ἄλλην ἐνταῦθα μίξιν ἐπιτεχνᾶσθαι δυνατὴ εἴη. – Procopius

Ummaka qinnassa nīk!

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This message last edited by Tom on 22/09/2015 at 09:50:24 PM
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Oh, that book. Read it. - 11/11/2014 09:27:05 PM 523 Views
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lol, nice *NM* - 25/11/2014 06:04:47 PM 288 Views
Show off *NM* - 12/11/2014 03:45:34 AM 238 Views
For shits and giggles, the translation - 21/09/2015 03:32:55 PM 441 Views
Ok, fine. Here's a real translation. - 22/09/2015 09:49:58 PM 648 Views
For shits and giggles, the translation - 21/09/2015 03:32:59 PM 494 Views

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