Until his sadly premature death aged 48 on 7th October, 2018, Oleg Pavlov was one of the most highly regarded Russian writers alive. He has won the Russian Booker Prize (2002) and Solzhenitsyn Prize (2012) among many other awards. Born in Moscow in 1970, Pavlov spent his military service as a prison guard in Kazakhstan. Many of the incidents portrayed in his fiction were inspired by his experiences there; he recalls how he found himself reading about Karabas, the very camp he had worked at, in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago. He later became Solzhenitsyn’s assistant and was inspired to continue the great writer’s work. Pavlov’s writing is firmly in the tradition of the great Russian novelists Dostoyevsky and Solzhenitsyn but he denounces the military reality in the late Soviet era with an absurdist touch reminiscent too of Andrei Platonov.
He was only 24 years old when his first novel, Captain of the Steppe, was published, receiving praise not only from critics but from the jury of the Russian Booker Prize, which shortlisted the novel for the 1995 award. Pavlov went on to win the Prize in 2002 with his next book, The Matiushin Case (English translation published in 2014 by And Other Stories). The Matiushin Case was the second novel in what would become the thematic trilogy set in the last days of the Soviet empire: Tales from the Last Days. All three works in the trilogy are stand-alone novels. The third book, Requiem for a Soldier, was published by And Other Stories in 2015.
- Read more about Oleg Pavlov’s Tales from the Last Days trilogy: Volume One, the Captain of the Steppe, a ‘brilliant and lasting expression of a bitter, righteous rage’; Volume Two, the ‘small stunner’ The Matiushin Case; and Requiem for a Soldier, ‘a triumph of Russian farce’, all published by And Other Stories.
- And Other Stories found Oleg Pavlov via discussion in our 2011 Russian Reading Group.
- Pavlov visited the UK in April 2013. Details of this are on our blog.
- Pavlov’s interview with BBC Russian Service here.
‘Pavlov imbues his world with a very particular flavour: the mixture of tragedy, absurdity and black comedy that runs in the veins of Russian literature as far back as the work of Nikolai Gogol … Pavlov fashions a disquieting and comic elegy.’
Times Literary Supplement
‘Captain of the Steppe combines a traditional Russian faith in the humanising power of literature with a boisterous energy and imagination. Pavlov wrote two further army novels which, along with Captain of the Steppe, have become known as the Tales of the Last Days trilogy, and we can be grateful that both are due for publication by And Other Stories.’
‘A comedy as dark and bitter as ersatz coffee.’
‘Pavlov skillfully navigates the razor-thin gap between dark comedy and tragedy’
‘Pavlov is revered by some as a philosophical genius whose books capture the essence of Russia and dismissed by others as a drunken grumbler. His powerfully intimate, quasi-autobiographical 1997 novel The Matiushin Case, now in English, charts the experiences of an impressionable conscript gradually dehumanised by army life.’
‘Russian Booker Prize winner Pavlov (Captain of the Steppe) plunges readers into the grim realities of Soviet military life in the early 1980s . . . Bromfield, well-known for his translations of contemporary Russian literature, ably renders Pavlov’s prose with extremes of lyricism and banality. Pavlov pulls off a harrowing tale about institutional cruelty and the perversions of character that it produces.’
‘Written in a bare, stilted style, it never plays for the high drama … choosing instead to beat steadily on from one absurdity to the next, coolly piling horror on top of horror…Seen through a lens softened by exhaustion and cheap vodka, Pavlov’s dark picture of existence becomes wryly amusing and often almost whimsical in its black humour.’
‘Oleg Pavlov is a powerful writer, and Requiem for a Soldier is his finest work.’
The Big Issue
‘Russian Booker Prize-winner Pavlov writes with the confident eccentricity of a man who knows what to do with words.’
‘Pavlov’s reputation and style sets him among the ranks of authors such as Genet and Burroughs with comparison also drawn to Faulkner and Kafka. Lovers of the haunting, poetic, literary grotesque of these authors combined with a healthy level of surrealist humour will find great satisfaction in the pages.’
'Chekhov would approve . . . Pavlov [is] a witness with a flair for spectacular images of surreal beauty – a mouse “quivered like a little heart” – which simply ease into a narrative, blending heightened prose descriptions with political satire and punchy dialogue, often expressing exasperation, which is well rendered into colloquial English by Anna Gunin.’