World Abaza Congress

24 June 2024
"Wisdom is a mind infused with conscience"
Fazil Iskander: wiseman from Chegem
A poet, writer, philosopher who brilliantly possessed the language: his aphorisms truly impressed: "How simply it is said, but how accurate, how deep!". He is a kind genius who has lived a long and, probably, happy life: he was engaged in his favorite work, to which he devoted himself entirely, and during his life earned both the people's love and the recognition of the authorities, something that was not given to every writer. His books have been translated into dozens of languages and are still in demand - thousands of copies are proof of that. Fazil Iskander himself called himself a Russian writer who glorified Abkhazia - it is here that his characters live, be it the famous Sandro or the boy Chik, here the events of all his most famous works took place.
Fazil Iskander (in the middle) with brother and sister, 1930s
© From the archives of the Iskander family
One of the family photos on the wall in the house of the Iskander family in Sukhum
© From the archives of the Iskander family
One of the family photos on the wall in the house of the Iskander family in Sukhum
© From the archives of the Iskander family
One of the family photos on the wall in the house of the Iskander family in Sukhum
© From the archives of the Iskander family
Fazil Iskander was born on March 6, 1929 in Sukhum. His grandfather Ibrahim Iskander was a wealthy Persian who founded one of the first brick factories in the town. Fazil Abdulovich himself was a half Persian: his father Abdul, the eldest of Ibrahim's sons, married Abkhaz woman Lelia Michelia, who was descended from the Abkhaz village of Dzhgerda. Fazil Iskander was fluent in the Abkhaz language, but he always wrote in Russian, despite his Persian-Abkhaz origin, largely because of the enormous influence on his formation of Russian literature, he considered himself a representative of Russian culture.

The writer's childhood took place in Sukhum, and most often he spent summer with his mother's parents in Chegem (part of the Dzhgerda village - ed.). Today, thanks to the writer, Chegem is known far beyond its borders - here the writer has placed the hero of his main work, "Sandro from Chegem".
Iskander family, Fazil Iskander on the right
© From the archives of the Iskander family
Iskander family, little Fazil with his mother
© From the archives of the Iskander family
In 1938, the father of the future writer was deported to Iran, mother Lelia Michelia was was raising children, since the family has not been reunited. Childhood memories often served as the basis for many of the writer's works.
"Every writer has his own source of creative energy, a source from which he draws both his stories and his own understanding of what is happening. Indeed, most often - these are the years of childhood. It is in childhood that life is perceived most simply and naturally, in childhood views are formed, which then accompany us all our life."

Fazil Iskander. From a conversation with journalist Oleg Donzhenko for the Chronograph Yearbook, 1989

After graduating from the Sukhum School No. 3 with a gold medal, Fazil Iskander entered the Library Institute in Moscow, where he studied for three years, and then in 1954 transferred to the Gorky Literary Institute. Being a student, Iskander met a famous Soviet writer and poet Konstantin Simonov. Taking advantage of the opportunity, the beginning writer left some of his poems with Simonov, who later read them and sent to Iskander in Abkhazia his critical remarks, highlighting the good ones and pointing to the unsuccessful poems.
"Chik was sometimes allowed to go to the sea along with a crazy uncle. Uncle was not allowed to go to the sea alone like a lunatic. And Chik wasn't allowed alone, because he was still a kid. Together they were allowed to go. Chik was allowed to go with his uncle as a child with an adult. Uncle and Chik were allowed as a lunatic with a reasonable person."

Fazil Iskander. From the story "Chik and Pushkin"

In 1954, by assignment after the institute (in the USSR, after completing the training, young specialists were obliged to work for several years in the place where they were sent, assigned by the state - ed.) he got into Bryansk as a literary employee of the "Bryansk Komsomolets" newspaper. Later - to the city of Kursk, to the editorial office of the "Kurskaya Pravda" newspaper. As an employee of this edition, Iskander writes an article against the "corn campaign" launched in those years - the mass introduction of corn culture in agriculture (campaign began after the visit of the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev to the US. Being impressed by the production of corn, he ordered to start growing this crop at home. However, different climatic conditions played a role and attempts to massively introduce corn in the USSR ended in failure - ed.). The article was not published. Later, the writer will return to the story of ridiculing such unviable campaigns in the story "Constellation of Kozlotur".
We are told: - It used to be,
It happened before – believe it or not,
Not saying what will happen next
But before is different from today.

Wrong spring, wrong weather,
Happened before for a reason
Fatter herring, stronger vodka,
Now the water is not the same.

Not so salted and loved ...
Try, check their speeches.
But after all, they used to say
What used to be better than now.

Fazil Iskander. From the poem "Before", 1956

Fazil İskander Fazil Iskander
© From the archives of the Iskander family
Fazil Iskander
© From the archives of the Iskander family
Fazil Iskander
© From the archives of the Iskander family
The first book by Fazil Iskander, a collection of poems "Mountain Trails", was published in Sukhum in 1957. By that time, Iskander had already returned to his homeland and worked as an editor in the Abkhaz branch of the main union organ of printing, "Gosizdat".
Creative meeting with Fazil Iskander, Abkhaz Drama Theater, Sukhum, 2006
Iskander begins writing prose in 1962. The novel "Constellation of Kozlotur", published in 1966 in the magazine "New World", brought him real fame. In the story, the writer made fun of breeding a new breed of animal - a cross between a goat and a mountain aurochs. It was the brightest satire in which many local officials recognized themselves.
"I remembered this evening and thought about the great and at the same time a little mean-natured wisdom of nature, striving for balance, because you have to pay for everything at a price. In addition, if you drink lemonade, which seems to you champagne, it means that eventually you will drink champagne that looks like lemonade."

Fazil Iskander. From the tale "Constellation of Kozlotur"

Fazil Iskander met his wife, a Muscovite Antonina Khlebnikova, on the Sukhum promenade. This moment is even described in the story "Constellation of Kozlotur", and later shown in the same film.
After the wedding, the newlyweds moved to Moscow. Soon the family had two children - a son Alexander and a daughter Marina.
"And now I see - she is standing on a small pier for local boats. She leaned over the barrier and looked into the water. She is wearing some kind of child's shirt and wide skirt at the underdeveloped waist. They say about such girls: you can cut them with scissors"

Fazil Iskander. From the story "Constellation of Kozlotur"

Fazil Iskander lived outside his homeland for about forty years. It is in Moscow that he begins to write a lot about Abkhazia. "One day, while in Moscow, I decided to write an epic about life in Abkhazia with a center in Chegem," the writer told in an interview with Abkhaz television.
"Like any person who lives far from his native land, I miss Abkhazia, but out of my very love for her, I develop a cure for this longing"

Fazil Iskander. Excerpt from the family video archive

The most significant work of Fazil Iskander was the novel "Sandro from Chegem". A collection of short stories united by one hero, the author himself attributed to the genre of a rogue novel. In the USSR, the novel was first published in the "New World" magazine in 1973. But the work was subjected to severe censorship. The author agreed to the publication only because there were certain financial difficulties, and he also understood that if he did not make concessions, nothing he had written would be published. However, what the editors did with his novel didn't give him any peace after publication. The text of "Sandro from Chegem" was, according to Iskander, "monstrously trampled." He even wrote a letter to the editor in which he demanded to return the manuscript.
He was deeply worried about this, and one could even say that he was injured. He was about to howl.
Antonina Iskander
From the documentary "Holiday of waiting for a holiday"
"A modern person feels the instability of everything that is being done around him. He has the feeling that everything should collapse, and everything for some reason holds on. The life around him is oppressed by double oppression, that is, by the fact that everything must collapse, and by the fact that it is still holding on"

Fazil Iskander. From the novel "Sandro from Chegem"

The novel "Sandro from Chegem" was published in full only in the late seventies, early eighties by the famous American publishing house "Ardis", created by Karl and Elenday Proffer and specializing in the publication of Russian-language literature, which could not be published in the USSR or was published with serious censorship. They published Nabokov, Aksenov, Brodsky and many others. It was in the publishing house "Ardis" that two volumes of "Sandro from Chegem" were published. In total, the book consisted of more than 800 pages; for comparison, "Sandro from Chegem", which was published in the USSR, had only 240 pages. Subsequently, the novel was translated into many languages of the world.
Iskander is a great writer who deserves the Nobel Prize for the novel "Sandro from Chegema".
Writer Andrey Bitov
From "Ekho Moskvy" radio, 2016
In the difficult years of the totalitarian regime in the USSR, Iskander always had a rather active civil position. And this often put him in an unpleasant situation - they stopped publishing him.
"I have experienced this firsthand several times. And each time the next lesson of good tone followed as a reaction to the letters that we signed about certain repressive measures, for example, in relation to the "New World" magazine or other publications. I have never been the initiator of such letters. But if the letters fell into my hands, and I saw that the demands set out in them were fair, I signed unconditionally."

Fazil Iskander. From a conversation with journalist Oleg Donzhenko for the Chronograph Yearbook, 1989

: In 1979, the story of Iskander "The Little Giant of Big Sex" is published in the notorious collection "Metropol". It was the so-called uncensored literary collection, published outside the State Publishing House, which published those writers who essentially adhered to dissident views and could not count on the fact that their stories would be published in the state publishing house. The scandal erupted, compilers and authors of the collection "called for an answer." Iskander was among those who were reprimanded. After the incident with "Metropol", the writer's works did not see the light for several years, they were not published. It continued until about the mid-eighties, only with the beginning of perestroika (an attempt by Mikhail Gorbachev to carry out a number of serious political reforms in the USSR — ed.) Iskander's works began published again.
They wanted to dissociate themselves from Fazil somehow, but he did not dissociate himself at all, on the contrary, he was one of those who said the most harsh words. He said that we live in an occupied country, that is, the authorities occupied this country. We live in a strict-regime kindergarten".
Writer Victor Yerofeyev, one of the founders of "Metropol"
From the documentary "Holiday of waiting for a holiday"
Of great importance in the work of Iskander are also stories about Chik, united under the common title "Chik's Childhood". The Chik's prototype is the writer himself as a child, and in the town of his childhood Mukhus one can easily recognize Sukhum.
Kindness, attention, participation, opposing official life filled with slogans, anxieties and fears triumph in the Mukhus yard. The court is an informal community, an "unofficial" state in a state, which draws up its laws, its constitution, its "punishments" and rewards.
Literary critic Natalia Ivanova
From the book "Laughter against fear, or Fazil Iskander"
Creative meeting with Fazil Iskander, Abkhaz Drama Theater, Sukhum, 2006
"The sound of laughter is like a pillar of light. Maybe laughter is the sounded light? A smile is a stream of light."

Fazil Iskander. From the story "The thirteenth feat of Hercules"

A special role in the work of Iskander is played by humor and laughter. But this is not stinging laughter, not teasing, not a desire to engage in moralizing, Iskander's laughter has completely different motives.
Iskander's laugh is natural, as is the reaction of life itself to the unnatural formality of officiality. Laughter reveals and kills the pompous falsehood, stupidity and complacency of those who consider themselves vested with authority over children, blissful and cows. Official "top" exposed unstoppable popular laughter. Laughter conquers fear. Iskander is alien to sarcasm denying. His laughter is devoid of edification, moralizing. If you want, this is a roguish laugh, a cheerful lie of lies, a trick of hypocrisy. He destroys by claiming.
Literary critic Natalia Ivanova
From the book "Laughter against fear, or Fazil Iskander"
"A person must be decent. This is feasible in any conditions under any authority. Decency means personally not to participate in any lie. Decency does not imply heroism, it implies non-participation in meanness"

Fazil Iskander

In 1989, Fazil Iskander was one of 11 deputies from the Abkhaz ASSR in the 12th Supreme Soviet of the USSR, where he worked until the Supreme Soviet self-dissolution in 1991. In the future, he no longer engaged in politics.
"There is no humanity without overcoming meanness and there is no meanness without overcoming humanity. Every time the choice is ours and responsibility for the choice too. And if we say that we have no choice, it means that the choice has already been made."

Fazil Iskander. From the novel "Sandro from Chegem"

Fazil Iskander was awarded many different awards, including in 1989 he was awarded the USSR State Prize, in 1991 the Academician Andrei Sakharov Prize "For courage in literature", in 2002 in Abkhazia he was awarded the highest award of the republic - the order "Honor and fame", I degree. He is also the winner of the Pushkin Prize, the Leo Tolstoy Yasnaya Polyana Prize, and at the Big Book Prize awards ceremony he was awarded a special prize "For Honor and Dignity". In 2010, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev presented Fazil Abdulovich with the Order "For Services to the Fatherland" and described him as a person who "symbolizes the age-old traditions of friendship between our peoples" (Abkhazia and Russia - ed.). In addition, n 2014, the writer from the hands of Russian President Vladimir Putin received the State Prize of the Russian Federation in the field of literature and art.

Twice Fazil Iskander was nominated for the Nobel Prize in literature, but both times unsuccessfully.
Iskander was one of the most likely candidates for the Nobel Prize from Russia, many said about it, primarily because he applied a territory to the literary globe, which was not there, for which Nobel is usually given - Abkhazia. Of course, it was very far from real Abkhazia, it was metaphysical Abkhazia, the country of his childhood, happiness.
Writer Dmitry Bykov
From an interview with the Russian Information Agency News
"The search for Bigfoot," he said, "may be the longing of a man for his start in anticipation of his end. People want to see their distant ancestors, to try to understand when and where exactly they went crazy."

Fazil Iskander. From the book "Camp of a man"

The writer left a great literary legacy. In addition to the listed works, this is the parable story "Rabbits and boas", the dialogue story "Thinking of Russia and the American", the story "School waltz, or the energy of shame", "Camp of a man", "Man and his environs", stories "Grandfather", "The Story of the Sea" and many others.
"The land of childhood is a wet, mysterious shore after the low tide, where you can find the most unexpected things. And I searched all the time and maybe this made it a bit absent-minded. And then, when I became an adult, that is, when it became something to lose, I realized that all the happy discoveries of childhood are a secret credit of fate, for which we then pay adults. And this is quite true."

Fazil Iskander. From the story "Time of happy discoveries".

His prose is so vivid, juicy, rich in images that it is not surprising that his works were turned into movies more than once, and even though Iskander himself said that the film greatly simplifies what the author laid down in the narrative, films in his works are loved and revered by viewers. Among them are "Time of happy discoveries", "Feasts of Baltasar, or a night with Stalin", "Let us part good," "Oh, Marat" and others.
"If she was more emotionally stunted, she could feel that her life was wholly owned by her, she would have come to the idea of ending this life. But she never felt and could not feel her life as something that belonged only to her, and therefore even now, when the one to whom she and her life most belonged and whom she loved more than her life died, she still did not think about it, because something that remained of her life, all the same, did not belong to her alone, but belonged to both her grandfather, and uncle Kyazim, and old Hasan, and all those close to her."

Fazil Iskander. From the story "Sofichka"

The latest adaptation of Iskander was the story "Sofichka." The film was made by a student of the famous Russian director Alexander Sokurov, Kira Kovalenko.
Images from the film "Sofichka"
directed by Kira Kovalenko
Writer Fazil Iskander died in his sleep on July 31, 2016 at the age of 88. He died surrounded by relatives and friends at his dacha near Moscow in Peredelkino. He was buried at the Novodevichy cemetery in Moscow.
Iskander has been a classic for half a century, but when a person leaves, you understand the size of the phenomenon. He is, of course, a great writer. He created the world, it is very rare. Even very good writers rarely create their own universe. He created a great world, he lived a great life.
Publicist Viktor Shenderovich
at the farewell ceremony with the writer in Moscow
"Culture is not the number of books read, but the number of books understood"

Fazil Iskander. From the story "Camp of a man"

The memory of the writer who praised Abkhazia is perpetuated in many areas of society. A commemorative coin with the image of Fazil Iskander was issued in the series "Outstanding personalities of Abkhazia". In Sukhum there are three chamber sculptures of heroes who came down from the pages of the books of Iskander - the boy Chik, his girlfriend Nika and Penguin-philosopher. The republic hosts an annual Fasil Iskander International Festival of Human Culture. The memory of Fazil Iskander is immortalized even in outer space - one of the minor planets is named after him. But the main thing - he perpetuated himself with his books - as long as they are read, Iskander will be alive in people's memory.
Already after the writer's death, the Fazil Iskander International Literary Prize was established in Russia in three nominations: prose, poetry and screenplay based on the works of Iskander. The name of Fazil Iskander was given to the State Russian Drama Theater in Sukhum. The Ministry of Culture and Preservation of Historical and Cultural Heritage of Abkhazia has announced a competition to create the best monument for the 90th anniversary of the writer in 2019.
We had Fazil, a sage who created a beautiful world filled with love, gave faith in common sense, goodness and infinity of life. We have Fazil, because when the real sages leave, they do not leave us in the dark, but continue to give the light of their soul, brave and tender. We still have the saving power of his artistic world, the great miracle of his mighty talent. His work is a vaccination of love against cruelty, lies and madness of reality. The opportunity to endlessly crouch to this inexhaustible spring is comforting.
Elena Kobakhia, Associate Professor of the Department of Russian and World Literature of the Abkhaz State University.
From an interview with the news agency Sputnik Abkhazia
Fragment of the program "Old apartment. 1965 Part one". Presenter Grigory Gurvich. Video from 1998

Author of the text - Arifa Kapba, photo-editor - Naala Avidzba, editor-in-chief - Amina Lazba

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