Cover image for The Fur hat
The Fur hat
Voĭnovich, Vladimir, 1932-
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Orlando, Fla. : Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, [1989]

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In this satire of Soviet life, an insecure but much-published novelist, Yefim Rakhlin, learns that the Writers' Union is giving fur hats to its members based on their importance, and that he rates only fluffy tomcat. Translated by Susan Brownsberger.

Author Notes

Vladimir Nikolayevich Voinovich was born in Stalinabad, Soviet Union on September 26, 1932. He worked as a herdsman and trained as a locksmith before serving in the Soviet Army from 1951 to 1955. He began writing poetry while in the army and in the mid-1950s started publishing stories in the magazine Novy Mir. One story, 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 as being dangerous.

His novel, The Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin, did not clear the Soviet censorship bar in 1969 but circulated underground and was published in Europe four years later. He was questioned repeatedly by the K.G.B. He left the country in 1980 and joined faculty of the Institute of Fine Arts in Munich. His Soviet citizenship was revoked in 1970 and he was unable to return for a decade. His other novels included Moscow 2042, The Fur Hat, Monumental Propaganda, and The Crimson Pelican. He died of a heart attack on July 27, 2018 at the age of 85.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Yefim Rahkin is a writer of routine adventure epics about "decent people . . . heroic types" such as geologists and mountain climbers. His work is not appreciated by the censored crowd nor the politically powerful--only by his large readership. When Rahkin hears that the Writer's Union is handing out custom-made hats to important authors, he seeks one for himself. Rahkin is a meek soul--for example, he has never objected to his wife's long-term affair with a Soviet general--but on this issue he makes a stand. His decision to be heroic strikes some as ludicrous (after all, he has a perfectly good hat), others as threatening, and finally it proves fatal. Patterned on Gogol's nineteenth-century novel Overcoat, Voinovich's tale is an unusual mix of both realism and absurdist humor. --Denise Perry Donavin

Publisher's Weekly Review

In this sly parody of Gogol's The Overcoat , emigre author Voinovich ( The Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin ) has chosen a target he is all too familiar with: the arbitrary, oppressive practices of the Soviet Writers' Union. The novel's protagonist, Yefim Rakhlin, is an adventure story writer whose work, although popular, is not critically well received. When the Writers' Union announces that it is distributing fur hats to all its authors--assigned according to rank--Rakhlin puts in for one. To his mortification, he discovers that he merits the lowest category: one made of cat fur. Rakhlin, who suspects that his Jewish origins may be part of the problem, is so incensed that he petitions various high-ranking officials to get his hat upgraded. By the end of the novel, taken up by the West as a cause celebre but disgraced in his own country, he suffers a serious heart attack and is hospitalized. Shortly before his death, he finally receives his wish, but it is a bittersweet, Pyrrhic victory. Voinovich's deadpan humor and impeccable timing make his latest satirical look at the Soviet Union particularly engaging; the novel also somberly points out the discriminations to which Jewish intellectuals are still subjected. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved