|Was||Poet Writer Science fiction writer Painter|
|Birth||26 September 1932, Dushanbe, Tajikistan|
|Death||27 July 2018, Moscow, Russia (aged 85 years)|
Vladimir Nikolayevich Voinovich, also spelled Voynovich (Russian: Влади́мир Никола́евич Войно́вич, 26 September 1932 – 27 July 2018), was a Russian writer and former Soviet dissident. Among his most well-known works are the satirical epic The Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin and the dystopian Moscow 2042. He was forced into exile and stripped of his citizenship by Soviet authorities in 1980 but later rehabilitated and moved back to Moscow in 1990. After the fall of the Soviet Union, he continued to be an outspoken critic of Russian politics under the rule of Vladimir Putin.
Voinovich was born in Stalinabad, Tajik SSR, Soviet Union. According to himself, his father was of Serbian descent and a translator of Serbian literature, and his mother was of Jewish descent. Vladimir Voinovich claimed that his father belonged to the Serbian Vojnović noble family, although this is solely based on his surname and the book by the Yugoslavian writer Vidak Vujnovic Vojinovici i Vujinovici od srednjeg veka do danas (1985) which he received as a gift from the author during his stay in Germany.
In 1936 Voinovich's father was arrested on the allegation of anti-Soviet agitation and spent five years in labor camps.
Voinovich began his studies in Moscow and tried to enter the Maxim Gorky Literature Institute. After a failed attempt he entered the Moscow Krupskaya Pedagogical Institute, the faculty of history. According to his autobiography, he spent some time in Kazakhstan, "seeking inspiration", and on his return to Moscow started working on his first novel.
Literary debut and dissidence
His earliest published books were We Live Here and I Want To Be Honest. In 1969 he published the first part of The Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin, a satirical novel about a Russian soldier during World War II. It was followed two years later by a second part. At the outset of the Brezhnev stagnation period, Voinovich's writings stopped being published in the USSR, but continued publishing in samizdat and in the West. In 1974, the authorities began a systematic harassment of Voinovich due to his writing and his political attitude. Voinovich was excluded from the Soviet Writers' Union the same year. His telephone line was cut off in 1976 and he and his family were forced to emigrate in 1980, being stripped of his citizenship. He settled in Munich, West Germany after being invited by the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich and for a while worked for Radio Liberty. Voinovich helped publish Vasily Grossman's famous novel Life and Fate by smuggling photo films secretly taken by Andrei Sakharov. In 1987, he published the second of his arguably most well-known works, Moscow 2042. Mikhail Gorbachev restored his Soviet citizenship in 1990 and he subsequently moved back to Russia.
Public activism in Russia
Voinovich continued to voice his political convictions also after the fall of the Soviet Union.
In 2001 Voinovich signed an open letter expressing support to the NTV channel, and in 2003 a letter against the Second Chechen War. On February 25, 2015 he published an "Open Letter from Vladimir Voinovich to the President of Russia" in which he asked Putin to release the Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko who went on a hunger strike. He stated that her death might have an even greater effect on the world's opinion than the annexation of Crimea and the war on Donbass. In a 2015 interview with The Daily Beast, Voinovich said that "In some ways, it is worse today" than during the Soviet era and that "the freedoms we have are just leftovers." In an interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in 2017, Voinovich also voiced criticism of President Putin, saying that Putin had turned the country in a more conservative direction at the expense of politics "oriented toward the future." He repeated his opinion that the political situation in Russia today is comparable to the 1970s in the Soviet union. "They are breaking up demonstrations. They are throwing people in prison on basically the same charges. True, they aren't giving seven-year sentences, but rather two. And now they have begun driving people out of the country", he noted.
Voinovich was married three times. Between 1957 and 1964 he was married to Valentina Vasilievna Boltushkina (1929—1988), together they had two children: daughter Marina Voinovich (1958—2006) and son Pavel Voinovich (born 1962), also a Russian writer and publicist, author of historical novels. His second wife was Irina Danilovna Braude (1938—2004). They had one daughter Olga Voinovich (born 1973), a German writer. Following Irina's death in 2004 Voinovich married Svetlana Yakovlevna Kolesnichenko (née Lianozova), an entrepreneur, also a widow of the Russian journalist Tomas Kolesnichenko. They lived in Moscow.
He was a member of the board of trustees of the Vera hospice.
Vladimir Voinovich died on the night of 27 July 2018; a heart attack was the cause of death.
The first and second parts of his epic magnum opus The Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin ("Жизнь и необычайные приключения солдата Ивана Чонкина") are set in the Red Army during World War II, satirically exposing the daily absurdities of the totalitarian regime. "Chonkin" is now a widely known figure in Russian popular culture and the book was also made into a film by the Czech director Jiří Menzel. Many have pointed out the similarities between the story about Chonkin and The Good Soldier Švejk. The third part of the novel was published in 2007. Not as well known so far as the previous two parts, it portrays the post-War life of the characters until the present, including Chonkin's involuntary emigration to the USA. Much attention is also paid to the figures of Lavrentiy Beria and Joseph Stalin, the latter being mockingly depicted as a son of Nikolai Przhevalsky and a Przewalski's horse. According to the author, the writing of the whole novel took him almost fifty years. The novel has been described as a Soviet Catch-22.
In 1986 he wrote a dystopian novel, Moscow 2042 (published 1987). In this novel, Voinovich portrayed a Russia ruled by the "Communist Party of State Security" combining the KGB, the Russian Orthodox Church and the Communist party. This party is led by a KGB general Bukashev (the name means "the bug") who meets the main character of the novel in Germany. A Slavophile, Sim Karnavalov (apparently inspired by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn), eventually overthrows the Party and enters Moscow on a white horse. The similarities between the plot of the book and the actual political developments in Russian following the fall of the Soviet Union have been noted by several observers.
Voinovich's other novels have also won acclaim. His The Ivankiad concerns a writer trying to get an apartment in the bureaucratic clog of the Soviet system. The Fur Hat, is a satire alluding to Gogol's Overcoat. His Monumental Propaganda is a stinging critique of post-Communist Russia, a story that shows the author's opinion that Russians haven't changed much since the days of Joseph Stalin. Monumental Propaganda has been described as "an illuminating comment on the persistence of false idols and historical delusions".
In 2002 he published a controversial book of memoirs A Portrait Against the Background of a Myth highly critical of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Voinovich accused him of creating a cult around himself, of poor writing skills and his alleged antisemitism, among other things. The book received a mixed reaction. Yuri Semenov supported the point regarding "Solzhenitsyn's continuous degradation" as a writer, but also criticized Voinovich for simultaneously "glorifying himself and his books". Liza Novikova of Kommersant compared the book to performance art, suggesting that "the author only helps creating the very same myth by trying to prove that Solzhenitsyn doesn't match the rank of a great writer". The book was widely seen as a reaction to Solzhenitsyn's two-volume historical work Two Hundred Years Together that was published in 2001-2002 and dedicated to the history of Jews in Russia and frequently regarded as antisemitic. Voinovich, however, said that he had started the work on his book before Two Hundred Years Together was even published and that he didn't have patience to read it till the end.
He published his memoirs in 2010.
Awards and honors
Voinovich was awarded the State Prize of the Russian Federation for 2000, for his book "Monumental propaganda" about Soviet Neo-Stalinist legacy sitting in the subconscious of almost every citizen of the "free Russia". He also received Andrei Sakharov Prize For Writer's Civic Courage (2002).