Yury Dombrovsky

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Yury Dombrovsky
Born (1909-05-12)May 12, 1909
Died May 29, 1978(1978-05-29) (aged 69)

Yury Osipovich Dombrovsky (Russian: Ю́рий О́сипович Домбро́вский) (May 12, 1909 - May 29, 1978) was a Russian writer who spent nearly eighteen years in Soviet prison camps and exile.

Life and career

Dombrovsky was the son of Jewish lawyer Joseph Hedal Dombrovsky [1] and Russian mother. Yury fell foul of the authorities as early as 1932, for his part in the student suicide case described in The Faculty of Useless Knowledge. He was exiled to Alma-Ata in Kazakhstan where he established himself as a teacher, and which provided the setting for his novel The Keeper of Antiquities. This work, translated into English by Michael Glenny, gives several ominous hints as to the development of the Stalinist terror and its impact in remote Alma-Ata.

Dombrovsky had begun publishing literary articles in Kazakhstanskaya Pravda by 1937, when he was imprisoned again — this time for a mere seven months, having the luck to be detained during the partial hiatus between the downfall of Yezhov and the appointment of Beria.

Dombrovsky's first novel Derzhavin was published in 1938 and he was accepted into the Union of Soviet Writers in 1939, the year in which he was arrested yet again. This time he was sent to the notorious Kolyma camps in northeast Siberia, of which we are given brief but chilling glimpses in The Faculty of Useless Knowledge.

Dombrovsky, partially paralysed, was released from the camps in 1943 and lived as a teacher in Alma-Ata until 1949. There he wrote The Monkey Comes for his Skull and The Dark Lady. In 1949, he was again arrested, this time in connection with the campaign against foreign influences and cosmopolitanism. This time, he received a ten-year sentence, to be served in the Tayshet and Osetrovo regions in Siberia.

In 1955, he was released and fully rehabilitated the following year. Until his death in 1978, he lived in Moscow with Klara Fazulayevna (a character in The Faculty of Useless Knowledge). He was allowed to write, and his works were translated abroad, but none of them were re-issued in the USSR. Nor was he allowed abroad, even to Poland.

The Faculty of Useless Knowledge (Harvill), translated by Alan Myers the sombre and chilling sequel to The Keeper of Antiquities took eleven years to write, and was published in Paris in 1978.

A widespread opinion[citation needed] is that this publication proved fatal. The KGB did not approve of the work, and it was noted that the book had actually been finished in 1975. Dombrovsky received numerous threats over the phone and through the post; his arm was shattered by a steel pipe in the course of an assault on a bus, and he was finally attacked and severely beaten in the House of Literature. He died about a month and a half later.

An account about Dombrovsky written by Armand Maloumian, a fellow inmate of the GULAG, can be found in Kontinent 4: Contemporary Russian Writers (Avon Books, ed. George Bailey), entitled "And Even Our Tears."


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