On Sept. 27, the award-winning contemporary Russian writer Yuz Aleshkovsky (third from left) sat down with two collaborators and former colleagues, Duffield White and Susanne Fusso (left), at the RJ Julia Bookstore to discuss the publication in English of his novels, Nikolai Nikolaevich and Camouflage. Pictured at right is Yuz’s wife, Irina Aleshkovsky, adjunct professor of Russian, East European, and Eurasian studies.
Born in 1929 in Krasnoyarsk, Aleshkovsky grew up in Moscow and served in the Soviet Navy. He was imprisoned for three years on a petty criminal charge and released after the death of Stalin led to a general amnesty. He published children’s books, but became best known for his songs and novels circulated in samizdat (the underground network of censored literature in the USSR). Aleshkovsky left the Soviet Union in 1979, and the following year Wesleyan sponsored his entry into the United States, where he was invited by Priscilla Meyer, professor of Russian language and literature, emerita, to serve as visiting Russian writer in Wesleyan’s Russian Department.
Written in the 1970s and first published in Russian in the United States in 1980, these two satirical works highlight Aleshkovsky’s gift for mixing realism with fantasy, his keen observations of Soviet life, and his adept use of the rich tradition of Russian obscene language. These stories have been brought to an English speaking readership for the first time by the translation of Duffield White, professor emeritus of Russian, East European, and Eurasian studies (at right), edited with an introduction and notes by Susanne Fusso, Marcus L. Taft Professor of Modern Languages and professor of Russian, East European, and Eurasian studies (at left).
At the event, White and Fusso first discussed Aleshkovsky’s significance to Russian culture. Then White gave a reading of excerpts from the two novels, followed by a Q&A during which Aleshkovsky described his difficult childhood during World War II in Siberia, where his family had been evacuated, as well as the circumstances of his arrest and his efforts in these novels to describe the tragedy of biological science in the Soviet Union. He also expressed his agreement with Dostoevsky, who said that reality is more fantastic than the most fantastic literature.
The event included a reception and book signing. (Photos by Simon Duan ’23)