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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

BOOKWORM: Russian Joyce




A prominent Russian modernistic author, who first won acclaim in the sophisticated cultural circles of pre-World War II Leningrad, has finally had his major works properly published in Russia.


Leonid Dobychin (1894-1936?) spent most of his life in the rural town of Bryansk, where he served as a low-ranking official. But after some examples of his writing were published in 1924 by a leading journal, Dobychin applied himself more fully to literature, writing during the next 12 years two dozen short stories and a short novel, "Gorod N," or "The Town of N," (translated into English last year and published by Northwestern University Press).


Labeled the Russian Joyce for his laconic, bewitching style, Dobychin miraculously succeeded in having most of his writing published in his lifetime, for the simple reason that, whatever else was wrong with it, his prose could hardly be found guilty of anti-Sovietism. Nevertheless, book reviewers were still pressed to give negative appraisals of Dobychin's work. Countering sinister accusations in 1936 of "formalism" and "a dry style," Dobychin answered with a snarl that "I do not understand what is dry and what is wet, I only know what is good and what is bad." Soon after, he bid do svidaniya to a secret-police informer under whose surveillance he had lived his last two years in Leningrad and disappeared. Forever. Whether he drowned himself, as his only friend and male lover thought, or managed to escape the Great Purge and the gulag by becoming a vagabond, is not known to this day.


A complete collection of Dobychin's prose and correspondence was finally issued this fall by the St. Petersburg-based publisher Zvezda.


The 500-page volume can be bought at larger bookstores in Moscow for 150 rubles or $6.