Kaverin, Veniamin Aleksandrovich. (Real family name, Zilber.) Born 19 April 1902 (6 April, Old Style) in Pskov, the son of a band conductor. He studied at the Pskov gymnasium and, while there, began to write poetry. In 1919, he moved to Moscow to enter the history-philology faculty of Moscow University. Along with his studies, he also acted as an instructor for the artistic department of the Moscow Soviet.
On the advice of Yuri Tynyanov - who just happened to be Kaverin's brother-in-law and first literary teacher--in 1920 Kaverin transferred to the philosophy faculty of Petrograd University while simultaneously studying Arabic at the Institute of Eastern Languages. It was here in Petrograd that Kaverin joined up with Zamyatin, Zoshchenko, Fedin, and others in the Serapion Brothers.
Kaverin's first attempt at prose was the story Odinnadtsataya Aksioma ("The Eleventh Axiom"), which he entered in a contest sponsored by the Petrograd House of Writers. It won first prize and the attention of Maksim Gorky himself.
In 1923 Kaverin graduated from the Institute of Eastern Languages, and in 1924, from Petrograd University. He then undertook graduate studies and in 1929 defended his dissertation on the history of Russian journalism.
His first publication was a collection of stories entitled Mastera I Podmasterya ("Masters and Journeymen", 1923). The stories were fantastic, experimental in style, influenced by the German romantics.
Kaverin's first novel, Skandalist ("The Troublemaker"), came out in 1928. It is a damning portrayal of old-fashioned, inflexible attitudes among the older academics in Leningrad. Russian Formalism is parodied as it is shown disintegrating. One character in the work is possibly modeled on Viktor Shklovsky.
His second novel Khudozhnik Neizvesten ("Artist Unknown", 1931), addresses problems of culture in the Soviet Union of the late 1920s. It revolves around a philosophical discussion between and engineer and a painter.
Ispolneniye Zhelanii ("Wish Fulfillment"), 1934, offers a type of comparative study of two different students at Leningrad State University, one a student of literature, and the other a student of physiology. The physiology student scores success in life, whereas the literature student fails.
Kaverin's most popular work, Dva Kapitana ("Two Captains") was published in installments between 1938 and 1944. It chronicles the fates and links between two captains. The first captain is a pre-Revolutionary explorer who disappears under mysterious circumstances in the Arctic Ocean before the first world war. The second is a young Soviet Air Force captain who comes to maturity shortly before the Great Patriotic War. This work won a Stalin Prize in 1946.
During the Great Patriotic War, Kaverin worked as a war correspondent for Izvestiya and still managed to publish a few collections of stories, including My Stali Drugimi ("We Became Different"), Orlinii Zalet ("Eagle's Flight"), Russkii Malchik ("Russian Boy") and others.
In 1949, Kaverin published the first installment of his trilogy Otkrytaya Kniga ("Open Book"), the last installment of which appeared in 1956. It is the story of a woman biologist who proposes a bold new theory. The theory is opposed by the entrenched obscurantists, but the biologist presses on, at great personal expense.
In the post-Stalin period, Kaverin continued to explore the issues of the intelligentsia and science (Kusok Stekla "Piece of Glass", 1960). He also addressed the abuses of the Stalin era. For example, in Sem Par Mechistykh ("Seven Pairs of Dirty Ones", 1962), the discrepancy between legality and morality of the Stalin time is revealed in a tragic episode during the transportation of convicts in the White Sea.
Pered Zerkalom ("Before the Mirror", 1971) again spoke to issues of culture and art. In this work, the hero discovers the civilizing mission of art.
A volume of memoirs, Osveshcheniye Okna ("Lighted Windows", 1978), provides a useful and interesting account of the events and literary atmosphere of the early 1920s.
Veniamin Kaverin died in Moscow on 2 May 1989.