Aksyonov Receives Russia’s Top Literary Prize

Posted: December 13, 2004 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Colleen Kearney Rich

Earlier this month, in a lavish ceremony at Moscow’s Golden Ring Hotel, Vassily Aksyonov, Professor Emeritus of Russian Literature and Writing, received the Open Russia Booker Prize, which is awarded for the best Russian novel of the year. His award was for Voltairiens and Voltairiennes, a historical narrative about 18th-century Russia laced with hints and prophecies about contemporary political issues.

This is not the first book of Aksyonov’s to receive attention this fall. In November, 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 has 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 has been number 1 in the ratings.

“I think people are watching, not to find out anything new about Stalin, because they know all that,” Aksyonov recently told the Washington Post in a telephone interview. “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.”

Trained as a physician, Aksyonov 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 emigrated 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.

Aksyonov’s other books include The New Sweet Style, The Island of Crimea, The Burn, Searching for Melancholy Baby, and Say Cheese. He retired from Mason earlier this year and now makes his home in Biarritz, France.

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