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Sergei Dovlatov Revisited

Filed under: Eustace Google

Glimpsed while looking up something else: a short biography of Sergei Dovlatov (1941-1990), the émigré writer and editor, on Russia-InfoCentre, an English-language site about Russian culture, history, &c. Here's an excerpt, with some mysterious punctuation made logical (feel free to correct me if you know the text), which includes an interesting letter from Kurt Vonnegut; there's a photo of Dovlatov and Vonnegut on the site.

From the late 1960s Dovlatov was published in samizdat, and in 1976 some of his stories were issued in the Western journals Continent and Time and We that brought about his expulsion from the Union of Journalists of the USSR. Fleeing from persecutions of authorities Dovlatov immigrated to Vienna in 1978 and then moved to New York, where he issued the daring liberal newspaper The New American.

By the mid 1980s he gained success with the public and was published in the prestigious The New Yorker journal.

"Dear Sergey Dovlatov! I love you too, but you have broken my heart. I was born in this country and fearlessly served it during the war, but I still haven't managed to sell a single story of mine to New Yorker journal. And now you come, and—bang!—your story is published at once.... I expect much from you and your work. You've got talent which you are ready to give away to this mad country. We are happy you are here," Kurt Vonnegut's letter to Dovlatov reads.

Within twelve years of living in the States Dovlatov issued his twelve books, published in the USA and Europe. In the USSR he was known only by samizdat and the author's program on radio Svoboda (Freedom). Later on his numerous collections of stories were published in Russia, including the Collected Works.

"I want to live to see the days when our dishonoured fatherland turned into scarecrow of the world, is revived; and these will be the days of rebirth of our long-suffering literature," Sergey Dovlatov wrote in his essay in 1982.

Update: For readers with the Complete New Yorker or a thorough and unmolested library, here's a complete list of Dovlatov's short stories in the magazine:

  • "The Jubilee Boy" (trans. Anne Frydman), June 9, 1980
  • "Somebody's Death" (trans. Katherine T. O'Connor and Diana L. Burgin), October 19, 1981
  • "Straight Ahead" (trans. Jack Dennison and Anne Frydman), January 25, 1982
  • "My First Cousin" (trans. Anne Frydman), December 5, 1983
  • "The Colonel Says I Love You" (trans. Anne Frydman), May 5, 1986
  • "Uncle Aron" (trans. Anne Frydman), October 20, 1986
  • "Uncle Leopold" (trans. Anne Frydman), July 13, 1987
  • "Father" (trans. Anne Frydman), November 30, 1987
  • "The Photo Album" (trans. Antonina W. Bouis), March 27, 1989
  • "Driving Gloves" (trans. Antonina W. Bouis), May 8, 1989

Thanks to J.M. for looking this up; if I've made any typing errors, they're entirely mine.


Too bad the fatherland is cranking out horseshit lit as fast as it can. The end of tyranny was certainly not a new day for Russian literature.Whit


I was wondering where you’ve quoted the Vonnegut letter from. Is it published anywhere? What would be the proper way to reference it?

Thank You.

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