Born in Saratov of humble origins, Fedin studied in Moscow and Germany and was interned there during World War I. After his release he worked as an interpreter in the first Soviet embassy in Berlin. On returning to Russia he joined the Bolsheviks and served in the Red Army; after leaving the Party in 1921 he joined the literary group called the Serapion Brothers, who supported the Revolution but wanted freedom for literature and the arts.
His first story, "The Orchard," was published in 1922, as was his play Bakunin v Drezdene (Bakunin in Dresden). His first two novels are his most important; Goroda i gody (1924; tr. as Cities and Years, 1962, "one of the first major novels in Soviet literature") and Bratya (Brothers, 1928) both deal with the problems of intellectuals at the time of the October Revolution, and include "impressions of the German bourgeois world" based on his wartime imprisonment. His later novels include Pokhishchenie Evropy (The rape of Europe, 1935), Sanatorii Arktur (The Arktur sanatorium, 1939), and the historical trilogy, Pervye radosti (First joys, 1945), Neobyknovennoe leto (An unusual summer, 1948), and Kostyor (The fire, 1961-67). He also wrote a memoir Gorky sredi nas (Gorky among us, 1943). Edward J. Brown sums him up as follows: "Fedin, while he is probably not a great writer, did possess in a high degree the talent for communicating the atmosphere of a particular time and place. His best writing is reminiscent re-creation of his own experiences, and his memory is able to select and retain sensuous elements of long-past scenes which render their telling a rich experience."
From 1959 until his death he served as chair of the Union of Soviet Writers.
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