Prominent Russian writer and political dissident Vasily Aksyonov has passed away. Aksyonov was one of the leaders of the 1960s generation of Russian intellectuals who began to question the communist regime in various ways. His parents both spent time in Gulags during the Stalin era, and Aksyonov himself was shipped off to a government orphanage as the son of "enemies of the people" - an experience that probably influenced his later opposition to communism. Aksyonov wrote numerous well-known novels that criticized aspects of Soviet society. As he began to dissent from the party line more openly, his works were no longer published in the USSR and eventually he was expelled from the country in 1980. Aksyonov then lived in the US for over twenty years, teaching Russian literature at George Mason University (unfortunately, he left soon after I arrived, so I wasn't able to meet him).
Unlike such Russian nationalist dissidents as Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Aksyonov advocated liberal democracy, opposed anti-Semitism, and deplored the recent revival of authoritarian Russian nationalism under Vladimir Putin.
English translations of many of his novels are available, including the epic Generations of Winter, which tells the story of a Russian family in the brutal Stalin era. In Search of a Melancholy Baby (the title is awkwardly translated and really should be something like "In Search of a Sad Bady"), is a fascinating account of Aksyonov's impressions of life in the United States. An interesting lesser-known work is his 1980 alternate history novel, Island of Crimea, which imagines what might have happened if the Crimean peninsula had been an island, allowing the "White" losers of the Russian Civil War to set up a noncommunist state there in 1920 - a kind of Russian counterpart to Taiwan (White forces did in fact hold out in Crimea for many months after being driven out of the mainland, but communist troops eventually pushed them out).
Aksyonov will be remembered for his literary achievements and also for helping to inspire an entire generation of dissident intellectuals. Russia certainly could use more people like him today.