OBITUARIES : Gavriil Troepolsky

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The Independent Online
Gavriil Troepolsky was the best-selling author of the story White Bim, the Black Ear, about a dog who travelled round the world across five continents. It was translated into 20 languages and sold millions of copies.

Troepolsky was born in 1905, the year of the first Russian revolution, in Tambov Province, the son of a Russian Orthodox priest. He was teaching in a local school at the time of Stalin's ruthless collectivisation campaign in 1928-30, and then graduated from agricultural school as an agronomist. For more than 20 years he worked on one of the millions of state collective farms in mid-Russia, until 1954, when he became a full-time writer.

His first short story appeared in 1937 in a local magazine. His first book, Iz Zapisok Agronoma ("Diaries of an Agronomist"), was published in 1953 by the literary magazine Novy Mir, edited by Alexander Tvardovsky, who was of peasant origin and had himself experienced the collectivisation. The following year he moved to Voronezh, a big industrial city south-east of Moscow, where he remained all his life.

All Troepolsky's books concerned nature and people working on the land. His first novel, Chernozem ("Black Earth"), describes the dramas of rural life under Stalin. It appeared in Novy Mir in parts over the years 1950 to 1961 and was attacked by the Soviet literary establishment. His O Rekakh, pochvakh i prochikh ("About Rivers, Lands etc", 1965) documented how Russia's natural resources were being barbarically exploited and predicted an ecological catastrophe.

Troepolsky was elected a member of the board of the USSR Union of Soviet Writers in 1967. From 1975, the year he received the State Prize, he occupied a senior position on the board of the Russian Federation Union of Writers.

But it was his brilliant Bely Bim, Chernoye Ukho (1971, translated into English as White Bim, the Black Ear), the tale of a globe-trotting setter, that brought Troepolsky fame. It was regarded as allegorical and the setter identified with his editor Tvardovsky, a close friend, who died the same year. The story sold millions of copies round the world, all the currency proceeds of which were taken by the state. Troepolsky often appeared in the Literary Gazette, Our Contemporary and other literary magazines; his three-volume Complete Works was published in 1977-78. He is reported to have expressed joy when the Communist system collapsed. His house in Voronezh, became a place of pilgrimage for young writers.

Jeanne Vronskaya

Gavriil Nikolayevich Troepolsky, writer: born Novospasovka, Russia 29 November 1905; died Voronezh, Russia 12 July 1995.