Alexander Viktorovich Ilitchevski was born in 1970 in Sumqayit, Azerbaijan, grew up in Moscow and studied mathematics and theoretical physics at Moscow’s Lomonosov University. He then taught at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, as well as at universities in Israel and the United States, before returning to Russia in 1998. Since 2013 he has lived in Tel Aviv, where he moved after his great grandmother’s emigration to Israel.
Ilitchevski emerged as a literary figure in the 1990s, his novels focusing in part on current events in Russia. Accordingly, a critic from the »Neue Zürcher Zeitung« praised his book »Matisse«, which first appeared in German in 2007 and was then republished in 2015, as the most important Russian novel, together with Vladimir Makanin’s »Underground« (1998), to address the period of the Soviet Union’s dissolution. In Ilitchevski’s novel, an illustrated volume of the epnymous French painter’s works accompanies a homeless man, while serving as a »symbol of a counterworld to the character’s grim reality« (Bayern 2). Even the protagonist, the physicist Mikhail Korolyov, who does not chase away the homeless people looking for a place to sleep in the entrance to his home, experiences uncertainty in a Soviet Union that is already disintegrating. He loses himself in memories that »hold him ever more captive, making it difficult for him to find his way back to reality« (Bayern 2), and sets off on a journey to his self. In 2007 this novel earned Ilitchevski the Russian Booker Prize. In 2010 he received the Bolshaya Kniga Prize for his epic tale »Pers« (2009; tr: The Persian). While on a business trip, the Russian geologist Ilya, who emigrated from Moscow to California during the chaotic aftermath of the Soviet Union’s demise, visits Absheron Peninsula on the Caspian Sea. Persian-born Hașem, an old schoolmate of Ilya, embodies the cultural heritage of this landscape, where long ago the religions of the world converged. As an artist and whirling dervish, Hașem’s natural spirituality challenges the geologist’s rational worldview. A review in the »Süddeutsche Zeitung« interpreted the novel as Ilitchevski’s attempt to bridge the gap between poetry and science.
Ilitchevski also has succeeded as poet. He regularly writes for Russian journals such as »Novy Mir«, »Kommentarii« and »Soyuz Pisatelei«, as well as Russia’s popular science portal, »Technologija-ZOO«.