Obituary: Yuri Nagibin
Monday 27 June 1994
YURI NAGIBIN, the leading Russian writer and literary critic, was best known for Chystye Prudy, a collection of short stories about life in Moscow before the Second World War, and his screenplays, 30 in all, including that for Akira Kurosawa's film Dersu Uzala (1975), which the celebrated Japanese director made in collaboration with Mosfilm Studio, and which won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film.
Nagibin was born in Moscow in 1920, the son of a minor civil servant. He initially, in 1937, became a student at the Medical Institute but after two years left and entered the Moscow Film School. His studies were interrupted by the Second World War and he volunteered for the service at the front. He was wounded and after leaving hospital returned to the front as a war correspondent for the daily newspaper Trud. His first short story was published in 1939, and he enjoyed the backing of two leading writers of the time, Yuri Olesha and Valentin Katayev. Then during the war two collections ofshort stories appeared - Chelovek s fronta ('Man from the Front', 1943) and Bolshoe Serdtse ('Great Heart', 1944).
After the war Nagibin became a full-time writer, but it was not until 1964 that he achieved celebrity with his short story 'Pages from the Life of Trubnikov' when it was filmed as The Chairman by Alexei Saltykov, with the title role played by the remarkable actor Mikhail Ulyanov. The story tells of the chairman of a collective farm in the post-war years and the terrible life of the state workers employed there. The film's premiere created a sensation.
Nagibin repeated his success in 1965 with the Lithuanian film The Girl and the Echo, directed by Arunas Zhebryunas. In 1968 he wrote Tchaikovsky, directed by Igor Talankin, with Innokenty Smoktunovsky in the title-role opposite the Bolshoi prima ballerina Maya Plisetskaya as Nadezhda von Meck, Tchaikovsky's patroness. But Nagibin will be best remembered in cinema for his remarkable script for Dersu Uzala, after the best-selling novel by Vladimir Arsenyev. Kurosawa and Nagibin worked together at Mosfilm Studio and on location in Siberia.
For 10 years, starting in 1955, Nagibin was literary editor of the monthly magazine Znamya. At the time he was under the influence of the leading Moscow poetess Bella Akhmadullina (the former wife of the poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko) and they were married in 1966. In the same year Nagibin signed, with a group of other liberal writers, a letter of protest in defence of two writers, Andrei Sinyavsky and Yuli Daniel, who had been tried for publishing works abroad. After that, for nearly 10 years, Nagibin was not published and was spurned by Leonid Brezhnev's literary establishment. But in 1975 he was elected a senior member of the board of the Russian Federation Union of Writers. And in 1981 he was promoted to the board of the USSR Union of Writers, a position with financial privileges. His Complete Works were published in Moscow at that time. In 1980 he published Zastupnitsa ('Lady Protectoress'), a play about the death of the great Russian poet Mikhail Lermontov.
Latterly, Nagibin lived mainly at his country house at Peredelkino, outside Moscow, but stayed at his flat in the city when meeting colleagues and performing his duties at the union. At the time of his death he had recently completed a new novel and a collection of short stories.
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