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Russian dissident writer Vassily Aksyonov dies at 76

Vassily Aksyonov, who was one of the most gifted and eminent Russian writers of a generation that emerged in the post-Stalin cultural thaw of the 1960s and who evolved into a dynamic, racy and surreal stylist, died July 6 at a clinic in Moscow after a stroke last year. He was 76.

Aksyonov was shaped by the paranoia of Stalin's rule. Despite their ardent communism, his parents were sentenced to labor camps, and he was raised in an orphanage for "children of enemies of the state."

Aksyonov spent part of his youth listening to jazz and reading American novels that were to him vivid symbols of the possibility of artistic and spiritual freedom. In his book "The Burn," published in the United States in 1983, he provided an ecstatic description of a jazz party of the late 1950s. In highly colloquial novels, including "A Ticket to the Stars" (1961), Aksyonov presented a vibrant culture of teenagers obsessed with rock music, sex, sporty shoes and icons of capitalism such as Coca-Cola. It was this book that made his name.

Western literary critics, looking to explain his appeal among Soviet youngsters, dubbed him "the Slavic J.D. Salinger."

Predictably, Aksyonov aroused disgust at the highest levels of the government, not only for his literary output but for his vocal opposition to the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. In 1980, Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev directly ordered the revocation of Aksyonov's citizenship. He spent more than two decades teaching and writing in exile, and was on the faculty of George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., from 1988 to 2004.

Aksyonov joked that his certificate of expulsion was his most prized souvenir, but he added, "Emigrating is something like going to your own funeral. The only difference being that after your funeral your nervous system calms down."

His 1957 marriage to Kira Mendeleva ended in divorce. In 1980, he married Maya Zmeul. She survives, along with a son from his first marriage.

- Los Angeles Times

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