Dmitry Bykov – The Russian American? causes controversy – Poetry News 10th August

The Weekly Standard, an American political opinion magazine, has published their take on America’s obsession with Russia, as imagined by Russian writer and poet Dmitry Bykov.The none too certain, shaky relationship between the United States of America and Russia is frequently in the news of late owing largely to the investigation centred around whether President Donald Trump did or did not receive help from the Kremlin to achieve his presidency.

And now, to perhaps muddy the waters further, here comes an eerie parallel written by Dmitry Bykov, one of Russia’s most influential and political of writers. The title story of his book ‘New Russian Fairy Tales’ from 2005 could almost be a mirror image of America’s 2016 presidential election campaign. The story, entitled ‘How Putin Became President of the USA’ satirises the whole political process and probably plays very keenly on America’s fears of and suspicions about Russia and their all-powerful leader Vladimir Putin.

Bykov – a suprisingly little-known writer

Despite this, and despite the fact that many Russian writers, even politically-minded writers have in the past become famous – or notorious – in the US, Dmitry Bykov is still pretty much unknown in America. Hobnobbing with other famous figures appears not to attract Bykov, unlike for instance the late Soviet dissident poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko who counted the likes of Allen Ginsburg and Robert F. Kennedy among his friends. Bykov’s relative anonymity in the US, despite him having lectured in some top American schools including UCLA, could maybe be attributed to the modern disinterest in literary culture. Perhaps he should try giving readings in ‘rap’ style; or perhaps not considering his writing is exceedingly difficult to translate being mostly specific to all things Russian and many Americans currently are somewhat shy of admitting a liking of Soviet culture and literature. Indeed, his 2006 novel JD, published in England in 2010 as ‘Living Souls’, was declared on the one hand to be “utterly baffling” and on the other “a masterpiece of satire and magic realism rolled into one”. This particular novel is set in a future where the old orders and models are crumbling and where fossil fuels are obsolete. This tale could well mirror concerns within the US if only the translation of it was simple.

There’s no doubt that Bykov is a prolific writer in Russia with a tally of plays, poetry volumes, novels and biographies to his name. He also writes for independent Russian press titles plus radio and cable TV there. He is a public speaker and lecturer and teaches literature in some high schools. In an interview for Read Russia Bykov said that he prefers to be called a journalist rather than a writer because he believes that journalism “brings instant results.” He obviously has much to be proud of, not least in his liberal opposition to the norm but he is something of a paradox, having a liking for inflammatory comments on religion and Communism – another American bugbear.

He recently expressed a withering contempt for the electoral choice between Trump and Clinton but has hinted at settling in America. Who better than Bykov to write an epic satirical Russian-American novel?

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