This File Last Updated: 2007/08/04

Yanka (Janka) Bryl

Янка (Іван Антонавіч) Брыль

Writer & Academic

(August 4, 1917 - July 25, 2006)

(old calendar: Jully 22, 1917)

Note: The Lacinka and Cyrillic Belarusian on this page is in Unicode (UTF-8) font encoding.

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[ Photograph: Yanka Bryl (1956) ]

Photo Credit: Short Stories, Yanka (Janka) Bryl; Moscow (1956); frontispiece.

Biographical Sketch

The following summary is compiled from several sources (see Notes):

    Janka (Yanka) Bryl was born on July 22, 1917, in Odessa (Ukraine), but five years later his parents moved back to their native parts, namely the village of Zahora in the Kareličy District of Hrodna (Grodno) Province in Western Belarus.

    He is one of the older generation of writers who had begun their literary careers in Stalin's time but received a new lease on life in the late 1950s (along with such contemporaries as Ivan Samiakin [b. 1921] and Ivan Mielezh [b. 1921]).

    Bryl served in the Polish navy at the beginning of World War II, and he was captured by the Germans in 1939 but escaped two years later and returned to Belarus where he fought with the partisans.

    These experiences together with impressions of childhood form the thematic basis for most of his elevated, highly lyrical short stories and prose miniatures. Many of Bryl's stories might well be described as poems in prose, but despite their subjective, emotional tone, they are also remarkable for psychological subtlety, lively picturesque language, and appealing humor.

    Similar features characterize his interesting novel Birds and Nests (Ptushki i hniozdy, 1963), which like the stories, is basically a lyrical monologue, recounting the emotional and intellectual development of a young prisoner of war in Germany. In its polyphonic construction, the novel is more ambitious than the stories, successfully synthesizing three different strands of narration in the descriptions of the hero's life as a prisoner, as a guerilla, and as a child in Western Byelorussia.

    Bryl's first story appeared in 1938 and his first collection in 1946, but it is in the post-Stalin era that he has produced his best works, now rightly being regarded as the doyen of Belarusian short story writers.

    McMillin includes one of Janka Bryl's observations about 19th century Belarusian literature: "The Soviet novelist Janka Bryl has aptly compared the growth of Belarusian literature in the second half of the nineteenth century to a stubborn plant forcing its way up between two paving stones. On the one hand Poland, through its press, showed for the most part hostility, scorn, and disbelief towards Belarusian cultural and national aspirations, whilst on the other hand, the Russian authorities, alarmed by the events of 1863 and fearful for the monolithic integrity of the Empire, placed an effective ban on all publishing in Byelorussian for over two decades." (McMillin, 1977; p. 108).

    Writer and academician. In his novels, essays, and diaries, marked by psychological and philosophical insights, Bryl has depicted sources of Belarusian ethnic identity and moral strength in defense of human values and the search of national goals.

    In 1981, he was awarded the honorific title of People's Writer of Belarus, the State Prize of the USSR in 1952, Yakub Kolas Literature Prize in 1963, State Prize of Belarus n. a. Yakub Kolas in 1982, and in 1994 he had been elected to the Academy of Sciences of Belarus.

    Janka (Yanka) Bryl died on July 25, 2006 in Belarus after a long illness (no other details). He had just turned 89. The funeral was held on July 27, 2006. Official recognition of his death was almost non-existent..

(Note: In the preceding excerpt, any terms in bold refer to other entries in the Historical Dictionary of Belarus. The Historical Dictionary of Belarus is an important summary of the history of Belarus.)


See the following examples of his short stories (all are in [British] English and are from Short Stories, Yanka (Janka) Bryl; Moscow (1956)):

Editorial Note: Although it is clear that this is Soviet--rather than Belarusian--literature, we still can see glimpses of his talent as a Belarusian writer.

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