Book Notes: Dmitry Bykov’s X

OK, wonderful news: Bykov’s novel June is not a fluke. X (2012), the first novel in the trilogy, is even better. A very complicated, crazy, beautiful novel.

X tells the thinly-veiled real-life story of how the famous Soviet writer and Nobel Prize winner Mikhail Sholokhov wrote his magnum opus Quiet Flows the Don. There were always rumors that Sholokhov plagiarized the novel, and its authorship remains one of the greatest mysteries of Soviet literature.

But Sholokhov’s authorship woes are only a pretext. The novel explores the nature of authorship. Of literature and of life. Who creates literature? Who creates what literature describes? Where does everything come from? Where does it go?

In spite of the heavy subject matter, the novel is often hilarious. The scenes depicting the visit to USSR of the well-meaning leftist writer Bernard Shaw are really funny. The novel is set in Stalin’s USSR but Stalinism is not at the center of the novel, not like it is in June.

I’m starting the closing novel of the trilogy that’s a 700-page doorstopper, considered to be Bykov’s best novel so far. Then there’s his 900-page novel about a Masonic lodge in the USSR, a biography of poet Boris Pasternak, and I’m hoping to be able to move on from Bykov then.

Oh, what pleasure it is to read good prose in Russian. I want to stop people in the street and tell them about this writer but I’m trying to keep myself under control.

4 thoughts on “Book Notes: Dmitry Bykov’s X

  1. // I’m starting the closing novel of the trilogy that’s a 700-page doorstopper, considered to be Bykov’s best novel so far.

    May you share the title?

    // 900-page novel about a Masonic lodge in the USSR

    And this one?


  2. It’s always a pleasure to participate in the second-hand buzz of you discovering a new favorite author.

    What does the book have to say about authorship and literature? Or is it the case where every summary does it injustice?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m thinking about this question all day because it’s not an easy answer. Bykov says that there’s black matter in space and that means there should also be black matter in time. Maybe the day has 33 hours and not 24. And in those missing hours we are somewhere else. And things happen to us there that we intuit but don’t remember. Sometimes they break through in art. Or madness.

      Like Borges, Bykov feels that when he writes something speaks through him and he doesn’t have complete control over it. He feels like he’s a conduit of something bigger.

      There is a beautiful episode in the novel where the writer is working on a paragraph and it’s horrible at first but then finally it changes completely, becomes 5 times shorter, and it shines. Anybody who writes will feel this episode deeply.


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