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THE LIFE AND WORK OF YURI DOMBROVSKY (1909-1978):  THE UNKNOWN GREAT WRITER OF RUSSIAN LITERATURE 


David Brummell will give a talk about the life and work of Yuri Dombrovsky (1909 -1978). Yuri Dombrovsky is comparatively unknown in the West. However, his two main literary works, The Keeper of Antiquities, and its sequel, the Faculty of Useless Knowledge, along with Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak and The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, stand as the greatest achievements of Russian literature of the 20th century. 

 In English, with a recital of Dombrovsky's poems in Russian  and English translation.

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 Yuri Osipovich Dombrovsky was born in 1909 into the family of a well-known Moscow lawyer.

 He got into trouble with the authorities as early as 1932, while still a student in the capital. As a result of this incident he was arrested and exiled to Alma-Ata, the then capital of Soviet Kazakhstan.

Although exile from Moscow was a punishment for Dombrovsky, he fell deeply in love with Alma-Ata and its history. He spent many years there, although this was interrupted by three further arrests and periods of imprisonment.

Dombrovsky had begun publishing literary articles in Kazakhstanskaya Pravda by 1937, when he was again arrested and this time imprisoned for seven months, having the “luck” to be detained during the partial hiatus between the downfall of Yezhov (as the head of the NKVD) 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. However, in that year he was arrested yet again. This time he was sent to the notorious Kolyma camps in north-east Siberia. He was not released until 1943.

On his release Dombrovsky was partially paralysed. He started writing his second novel, The Ape Is Coming for Its Skull, in hospital. After he recovered he worked as a teacher in Alma-Ata. He completed this second novel and wrote The Dark Lady, his three novellas on Shakespeare.

In 1949 he was arrested for a third time, in connection with the campaign against ”cosmopolitanism”. His 10-year sentence to the Gulag was commuted only in 1955, two years after Stalin’s death; in 1956 he was finally and fully rehabilitated.

Dombrovsky spent the last 20 years of his life in Moscow, devoted to the writing and publishing he had not been able to do in captivity. The Ape Is Coming for its Skull was published in 1959; The Keeper of Antiquities in 1964; and The Dark Lady in 1969. The Faculty of Useless Knowledge, his master-work of the last years, which Dombrovsky had begun in 1964 and finished in 1975, was published in Paris in 1978 and was a great success. Only a few days later he was assaulted and severely beaten up at the Central Writers’ Club. He died six weeks later.

Dombrovsky not only wrote three incredible novels, but also a great collection of articles on both famous and long-forgotten artists and writers. Shakespeare was one of his main interests. Dombrovsky’s knowledge of history and literature was encyclopaedic and suffused with his love for these subjects. He also wrote poetry in which he depicts his experience of the Gulag.

David Brummell will outline the key events in Dombrovsky’s life and link these to Dombrovsky’s creative development as a writer of both prose and poetry.

The evening will include readings in Russian and English of three poems by Dombrovsky and (in English) extracts from his prose works.

Alla Gelich will read in Russian and Lev Levermore in English.

Details of guest performers

David Brummell is a long-standing member of the Pushkin Club, a former trustee of Pushkin House.

Alla Gelich, our Russian reader, is a long-standing member of the Pushkin Club, and has recited Russian poetry on numerous occasions – in Great Britain, Russia, Belgium, Holland and Germany. A recording of her voice - as “the voice of the poet” - was played during the performance of Sergei Prokofiev’s cantata, Alexander Nevsky, at the Royal Festival Hall in 2018.                                                                                                            

Lev Levermore, our English reader, is an actor of Russian origin trained in both England and Russia. UK theatre credits include ‘Richard III’ and ‘Boy’ (Almeida Theatre); TV credits include ‘Berlin Station’ (Netflix, Channel 4). With other members of the JAG Art theatrical troupe, he performed in the “Poetry of the Revolution - Stray Dog Cabaret” evening at the Pushkin Club in March 2018.

This event is organised by Pushkin Club and all are welcome.