Professor Emeritus Aksyonov Dies

Posted: July 8, 2009 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: July 7, 2009 at 2:22 pm

By Colleen Kearney Rich

Vassily Aksyonov

Vassily Aksyonov

Vassily Aksyonov, Professor Emeritus of Russian Literature and Writing, died on Monday, July 6, in Moscow. He was 76.

According to news reports, he had been in the hospital since January 2008 after suffering a stroke.

In December 2004, Aksyonov received the Open Russia Booker Prize, which is awarded for the best Russian novel of the year. His award, presented in Moscow, was for “Voltairiens and Voltairiennes,” a historical narrative about 18th-century Russia laced with hints and prophecies about contemporary political issues.

Earlier that year, Russian television began airing a 24-part miniseries titled “Moscow Saga,” based on Aksyonov’s novel of the same name. “Moscow Saga” was published in the United States by Random House in 1995 with the title “Generations of Winter.” It received accolades worldwide, with critics comparing the book to “War and Peace” and “Dr. Zhivago.” In the novel, the lives of the fictional Grandov family are interwoven with the rise and rule of Joseph Stalin. The television series was number 1 in the ratings.

“I think people are watching, not to find out anything new about Stalin, because they know all that,” Aksyonov told the Washington Post in a telephone interview at the time. “In a time of terror, we see how people survived, how they lived, how they loved each other, how they betrayed each other. I think that’s what people are watching.”

Born in Kazan, Russia, Aksyonov trained as a physician and practiced medicine for a number of years before turning to writing. He made his Soviet literary debut in 1960 and was considered one of the most popular Soviet writers of prose in the 1960s and 1970s.

In 1980, he was forced into exile and immigrated to the United States. Aksyonov settled in the Washington, D.C., area, where he taught at Johns Hopkins University and Goucher University before joining Mason as a Robinson Professor. He taught at Mason until May 2004; in retirement he lived in Moscow and Biarritz, France.

Aksyonov’s other books include “The New Sweet Style,” “The Island of Crimea,” “The Burn,” “Searching for Melancholy Baby” and “Say Cheese.”

He is survived by his wife, Maya, and a son.

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