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Vasily Aksyonov; writer was one of last Soviet exiles; 76

VASILY AKSYONOV VASILY AKSYONOV (AFP/Getty Images/File 2004)
By Mansur Mirovalev
Associated Press / July 7, 2009
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MOSCOW - Vasily Aksyonov, a prolific Russian writer and one of the last dissidents to be exiled from the Soviet Union, died yesterday. He was 76.

Mr. Aksyonov died at a Moscow hospital where he was being treated after a stroke last year, his widow, Maya, said.

Mr. Aksyonov wrote more than 20 novels during a career that included his forced exile from the Soviet Union in 1980 after he was branded as “anti-Soviet.’’ His most famous prose works were “The Burn,’’ “The Island of Crimea,’’ and “The Moscow Saga,’’ known in English as “Generations of Winter.’’

Mr. Aksyonov lived in the United States for more than two decades, teaching Russian and Russian literature at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., and working for Radio Liberty as a journalist.

Born in the central city of Kazan, he was the son of Yevgenia Ginzburg, a prominent journalist. She and his father, a local Communist official, were sent to labor camps in the late 1930s at the height of Josef Stalin’s political purges, and he was placed in an orphanage.

At age 16, Mr. Aksyonov joined his mother in exile in the far eastern Magadan region, home to some of the harshest prison camps in the gulag, where his views were shaped in an atmosphere of free discussion among the repressed intelligentsia. His mother became known internationally after the publication of her memoir, “Journey into the Whirlwind.’’

Mr. Aksyonov graduated from Leningrad Medical University in 1956 and worked as a doctor until he began writing full time in 1960.

His first novel, “The Colleagues,’’ was published in 1959 in a popular youth magazine, bringing him instant recognition. He soon became one of the informal leaders of the so-called Shestidesyatniki, which translates roughly as “the ’60s generation,’’ young Soviets who resisted the Communist Party’s cultural and ideological restrictions.

“It was amazing: We were being brought up robots, but we began to listen to jazz,’’ Mr. Aksyonov said in a 2007 documentary about him.

“Aksyonov’s death is the death of an entire era,’’ prominent writer Viktor Yerofeyev told the ITAR-Tass news agency. “And those are not just words. Aksyonov created the literary language of the shestidesyatniki. . . . In the ’60s, he was an idol for the whole country.’’

About 5 million copies of his books were published in the Soviet Union until he fell out of official favor in the mid-1970s. In 1979, Mr. Aksyonov and several other young writers set up their own journal, called Metropol. But it was blocked from publishing, and Mr. Aksyonov was expelled from the official Union of Soviet Writers.

In 1990, amid openness and criticism of the repressive past during the glasnost era and a year before the Soviet Union’s breakup, Mr. Aksyonov was reinstated as a Soviet citizen. He began to visit frequently, and his books were widely published in Russia.

Mr. Aksyonov leaves his wife and a son.