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Olesha in 1958
|Born||March 3 [O.S. February 19] 1899
Elizavetgrad, Russian Empire
|Died||May 10, 1960
|Resting place||Novodevichy Cemetery, Moscow|
|Genre||Fiction, drama, poetry|
Three Fat Men
Yury Karlovich Olesha (Russian: Ю́рий Ка́рлович Оле́ша, March 3 [O.S. February 19] 1899 – May 10, 1960) was a Russian and Soviet novelist. He is considered one of the greatest Russian novelists of the 20th century, one of the few to have succeeded in writing works of lasting artistic value despite the stifling censorship of the era. His works are delicate balancing acts that superficially send pro-Communist messages but reveal far greater subtlety and richness upon a deeper reading. Sometimes, he is grouped with his friends Ilf and Petrov, Isaac Babel, and Sigismund Krzhizhanovsky into the Odessa School of Writers.
Yuri Olesha was born on March 3 [O.S. February 19] 1899 to Catholic parents of Polish descent in Elizavetgrad (now Kropyvnytskyi, Ukraine). Olesha's father, Karl Antonovich, was an impoverished landowner who later became a government inspector of alcohol and developed a proclivity for drinking and gambling. In 1902 Olesha and his family settled in Odessa, where Yuri would eventually meet many of his fellow writers such as Isaac Babel, Ilya Ilf, and Valentin Kataev, and ultimately maintain a lifelong friendship with the latter. As a student, Yuri demonstrated a knack for science but favored literature above his other subjects and began writing during the year before his graduation cum laude from high school. In 1917 Olesha entered law school but postponed his studies two years later to volunteer for the Red Army during the civil war; during this time, Olesha began producing propaganda for the revolution.
Olesha's writing career began while he was involved with the literary group of young writers in Odessa called "The Green Lamp," which included not only Kataev and Olesha, but such influential writers as Eduard Bagritski and Dmitry Merezhkovsky. Olesha continued to produce propaganda materials for the revolution in Odessa and then in Kharkov, where he relocated in 1921. In 1922, Olesha published his first short story, "Angel," and moved to Moscow the same year to work at a popular railway worker's periodical called The Whistle. Here Olesha began writing featured satirical poetry under the pseudonym "Зубило" ("The Chisel"), eventually publishing two collections of poems in 1924 and 1927 before turning to prose writing and drama.
Olesha's literary debut would also become one of his most popular works: the novel Envy, which he published in 1927, follows five leading characters. Largely regarded as his greatest work, the novel thematically contrasts the old and new order, as well as individualism and collectivism, in Soviet Russia. During this period Olesha published another popular success: the fairy tale The Three Fat Men which he wrote in 1924 but did not publish until the year after his initial literary success. Olesha also wrote several short stories in the 1920s and 1930s, the most prominent of which are "Liompa" (1928), "The Cherry Stone" (1929), and "Natasha" (1936). In addition to prose fiction, Olesha also wrote for the stage, not only adapting his novel Envy for the theater in 1929 under the title Conspiracy of Feelings, but also writing an original play called A List of Assets in 1931 and dramatizing Dostoevsky's novel The Idiot later in life. In the 1930s and 1940s Olesha found it increasingly difficult to publish his work as a result of stringent Stalinist censorship. Despite continuing to write and edit, Olesha's career was stunted by his political environment, and on May 10, 1960 the author died of heart failure.
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