Obituary: Andrei Sinyavsky

After Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Andrei Sinyavsky was the most famous Soviet dissident. His 1966 trial in Moscow for - with Yuli Daniel - publishing abroad "anti-Soviet" satirical stories became sensational. He was sentenced to seven years' hard labour; the occasion marked the beginning of the modern dissident movement in the Soviet Union.

He was born in 1925 in Moscow, son of a party official who was arrested in Stalin's purge in 1951. He served as a soldier in the Second World War, survived, and graduated from Moscow University in 1949, a year marked by a new wave of arrests, and strict censorship in arts and literature. For a while he worked at his own university until he moved to the Gorky Institute of World Literature, an arm of the Soviet literary establishment.

It was from this dark background that he started writing - in tune with the official line - articles and essays on Akhmatova, Babel, Gorky and Pasternak. Three years after Stalin's death in 1953, during Khrushchev's so-called "thaw", when there was a hope for liberalisation, his article "What is the Socialist Realism?" appeared: written in defiance of censorship, it created a sensation in Moscow literary circles and with the reading public. This encouraged Sinyavsky and his friend Yuli Daniel (three weeks his junior) both to write books and short stories which they sent to France through a woman who worked at the French Embassy in Moscow.

From 1959 on, even before Solzhenitsyn appeared in print, for a few years both the Russian and Western literary worlds were mystified by the sharply satirical, anti-Stalinist Fantasticheskii Mir Abrama Tertsa ("The Fantastic World of Abram Tertz"), followed by Sud Idet ("The Trial is On"), where he described Stalinist methods of persecuting people, according to the saying of Lenin that the aim justifies the means; and Liubimov. The books appeared under the pseudonyms Abram Tertz (Andrei Sinyavsky) and Nikolai Arzhak (Yuli Daniel). Eventually the KGB in Paris, who dug deep, and everywhere had their own people, discovered who the authors were.

Exposed, they were arrested on 8 September 1965 and soon after put on trial. Officially they were declared "traitors" who had sold themselves for dollars to the West. But Russian literary circles knew exactly what really annoyed the Soviet literary establishment: that, being a Russian, Sinyavsky took a Jewish pseudonym while Daniel, who was Jewish, took a Russian pseudonym, and this pair - "agents of international Zionism", as they were called - challenged the whole Soviet system.

The trial attracted world attention. It recalled the 1930s show trials. The speeches of establishment writers on the prosecution's side were broadcast through loudspeakers on the streets of Moscow, but never those from the defence. The lonely voices of Lydia Chukovskaya, Alexander Ginzburg (who published Belaya Kniga in samizdat), and Konstantin Paustovsky drowned in the choir of attacks in the Soviet press. The weekly Literaturnaya Gazeta, which led those loyal to the Soviet government, printed Mikhail Sholokhov (and the like) who demanded nothing less than execution of the writers. Sinyavsky was sentenced to seven years' hard labour in a camp (and Daniel five) amidst protests from prominent literary figures, left- wing intellectuals and even from fellow Communists in the West. It was all well documented by the world press.

In the camp, in Potma, some 500km from Moscow, Sinyavsky continued to write. His correspondence with his wife was published (in 1973 in London) in a book, Golos iz khora ("A Voice from the Choir"), and later appeared in the main countries of the West. He was released on 8 June 1971. Two years later together with his wife, Maria Rozanova, and his son, he received permission to leave the Soviet Union for France. There he was appointed to a professorship at the Sorbonne.

But in exile his celebrity status quickly lost its lustre. His two major books, Progulki's Pushkinym ("Walking with Pushkin", 1975) and V Teni Gogolya ("In the Shadow of Gogol", 1976), were controversial and even received a hostile reception from Russians living abroad.

Feeling the lack of outlets for his views, in the late 1970s Sinyavsky, with his wife (always the driving force behind him), founded and published, from his own small publishing firm, a literary magazine, Sintaksis, in which he published articles by himself and his fellow writers. He returned to Moscow under Gorbachev's perestroika in 1988, when his friend Yuli Daniel died.

Sinyavsky lived in a suburb of Paris from which he always managed to remain in the centre of Russian dissident literary life.

Jeanne Vronskaya

Andrei Donatovich Sinyavsky, writer: born Moscow 8 October 1925; married Maria Rozanova (one son); died Paris 25 February 1997.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£36000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, - 1 Year contract

£50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, Stock...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Human Resource Officer and Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join one of...

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living