Authors: Boris Pilnyak

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Russian novelist and short-story writer

Author Works

Long Fiction:

Goly god, 1922 (The Naked Year, 1928)

Ivan da Marya, 1922

Tretya stolitzya, 1923

Mashiny i volki, 1924

Mat’ syra zemlya, 1926 (Mother Earth, 1968)

Krasnoye derevo, 1929 (novella; Mahogany, 1968)

Volga vpadayet v Kaspiyskoye more, 1930 (The Volga Falls to the Caspian Sea, 1931)

Rozhdeniye cheloveka, 1935

Sozrevaniye plodov, 1936

Short Fiction:

Bylyo, 1920

Tales of the Wilderness, 1924

The Tale of the Unextinguished Moon, and Other Stories, 1967

Mother Earth, and Other Stories, 1968

Chinese Story, and Other Tales, 1988 (also known as Mahogany, and Other Stories, 1993)


Okei: Amerikanskii roman, 1933 (Okay, 1972)


Boris Pilnyak (pyihl-NYAHK) can be regarded as a symbol of the vagaries of literary politics in the Soviet Union during the 1920’s and 1930’s. A “fellow traveler” who was sympathetic to the need for social reform in Russia, he initially accepted the Bolshevik Revolution as a genuine people’s revolt. As a student of nature and a sympathizer with the common people, however, he was increasingly critical of the bureaucratization and arbitrary nature of Communist rule. His engaged but independent stance made him an easy target in several organized campaigns to intimidate Soviet intellectuals, and he was the particular subject of harsh governmental criticism in 1925 and 1929. His attempts to adjust to the changing political climate compromised his reputation and won him only temporary respite; he was arrested during the Stalinist purges and summarily executed in 1938.{$I[AN]9810000083}{$I[A]Pilnyak, Boris}{$S[A]Vogau, Boris Andreyevich;Pilnyak, Boris}{$I[geo]RUSSIA;Pilnyak, Boris}{$I[tim]1894;Pilnyak, Boris}

The son of educated, middle-class parents of German, Slavic, and Tartar extraction, he was born Boris Andreyevich Vogau in a small town near Moscow on September 29, 1894. After graduating from the Nizhni-Novgorod school in 1913, he attended the Moscow Institute of Commerce, where he studied business finance and administration. Pilnyak achieved fame with The Naked Year, which, with its fragmentary, modernist style, departed significantly from his earlier short stories. The novel is an electrifying portrait of the revolution, reflecting in a fresh way its enthusiasm, its horror, and its human spirit. Many of Pilnyak’s short stories from the 1920’s display a lively interest in experimental prose.

Pilnyak’s concern for the people of Russia and the elementary forces at work within the great land is evident in his longest work, The Volga Falls to the Caspian Sea. His short novel Mahogany, published in Berlin in 1929, was denounced as antirevolutionary and banned in the Soviet Union. Pilnyak traveled extensively in Russia, Germany, England, the Near East, and the Far East. In 1931 he toured the United States and wrote an interesting commentary on his experiences in Okay.

BibliographyBrostrom, Kenneth. “The Enigma of Pil’njak’s The Volga Falls to the Caspian Sea.” Slavic and East European Journal 18 (Spring, 1974).Browning, Gary. Boris Pilniak: Scythian at a Typewriter. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Ardis, 1985.Edwards, T. R. N. Three Russian Writers and the Irrational: Zamyatin, Pilnyak, and Bulgakov. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1982.Jensen, Peter Alberg. Nature as Code: The Achievement of Boris Pilnjak, 1915-1924. Copenhagen: Rosenhilde and Bagger, 1979.Nicholas, Mary. “Boris Pilniak and Modernism.” Slavic Review 50 (Summer, 1991).Reck, Vera. Boris Pil’niak: A Soviet Writer in Conflict with the State. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1975.
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