Vladimir Voinovich, 85, dissident Russian writer

Former Soviet dissident, novelist Vladimir Voinovich speaks at a news conference during a presentation of his new book "Portrait in a Myth's Setting" in Moscow, Thursday, July 4, 2002. Voinovich released his new book that criticizes the "cult of personality" surrounding Alexander Solzhenitsyn. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)
Dmitry Lovetsky/Associated Press
Vladimir Voinovich speaks at a news conference during a presentation of his book "Portrait in a Myth's Setting" in Moscow, on July 4, 2002.

NEW YORK — Vladimir Voinovich, a Russian writer whose satirical novels vexed the Soviet authorities in the Leonid Brezhnev era, resulting in his banishment from the country for a decade, died July 27 in Moscow. He was 85.

Vladimir R. Medinsky, Russia’s culture minister, confirmed the death in a condolence statement on Sunday. The cause was a heart attack, Mr. Voinovich’s friend Yulia Pessina said on Facebook.

Mr. Voinovich first incurred the displeasure of the authorities by supporting high-profile dissidents in the mid-1960s. Then he really inflamed them with his novel “The Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin.” The book did not clear the Soviet censorship bar in 1969 but circulated underground and was published in Europe four years later.


Mr. Voinovich found himself under scrutiny by the KGB, and later said that he believed that during one of its interviews with him in 1975 the agency poisoned him with a cigarette that had been laced with some sort of hallucinogen.

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He left the country in 1980 — not quite exiled, perhaps, but certainly emigrating with official encouragement. Although the authorities usually resisted having Soviet writers go abroad, he told The New York Times in 1981, “in my case they were so sick of me they wanted me to go anywhere.”

He moved to West Germany to join the faculty of the Institute of Fine Arts in Munich, and the next year his Soviet citizenship was revoked. Not until Mikhail S. Gorbachev and the glasnost era a decade later was he able to return.

By that time he had published several other works in the West, including “Moscow 2042” (1986), a futuristic story in which an exiled Russian writer living in Munich in 1982 is given a chance to take a Lufthansa flight 60 years into the future.

“ ‘Moscow 2042’ captures a sense not only of historical anxiety but great comic freedom, and mixes social vision with a very modern view of the game of fiction,’ ” Malcolm Bradbury wrote in The New York Times Book Review in 1987. “It is, quite simply, a wonderful book, written by a man who has been forged within our difficult modern history but who still manages to possess a profound sense of literary play.”


Mr. Voinovich, though free to live and publish in modern Russia, remained something of a dissident until the end, regularly voicing alarm about President Vladimir Putin and the revival of authoritarianism.

“Some people say that we have already returned to 1937,” Mr. Voinovich told Radio Free Europe last year, referring to the time of the Great Purge under Josef Stalin. “I would say that we haven’t reached 1937 yet, but we have definitely reached the 1970s.”

Vladimir Nikolayevich Voinovich was born on Sept. 26, 1932, in Stalinabad (since renamed Dushanbe).

His father, a journalist and translator of Serbian literature, was arrested on political charges when Vladimir was 4 and spent five years in a labor camp. His mother taught mathematics.

Mr. Voinovich worked as a herdsman and trained as a locksmith before serving four years in the Soviet army in Poland and elsewhere, from 1951 to 1955.


His education had often been interrupted yet he aspired to a literary life, something facilitated by his family’s love of reading and emphasis on it. He began writing poetry while in the army and, during the post-Stalin years in the mid-1950s, published stories in a magazine, Novy Mir, and wrote songs, several of which became very popular.

One Novy Mir story in particular, “I’d Be Honest if They’d Let Me,” about a construction supervisor whose conscience is bothered by the shoddy structures he is ordered to build, was singled out by a deputy of Nikita S. Khrushchev “as being particularly odious and dangerous,” The Times said in a 1977 article on Mr. Voinovich.

Mr. Voinovich leaves his third wife, Svetlana Y. Kolesnichenko, and a daughter, Olga V. Voinovich.