Grigory Oster

Grigory Oster , presented with awards many times over for his satirical, humorous texts, was born in Odessa on the Black Sea in 1947.  He is considered one of the most important living Russian authors of children’s books and has written a great number of short stories, fairy tales, (puppet) plays and film scripts, which have been translated into many languages, including English, Finnish, Japanese, Polish and Hungarian.  Oster spent his childhood in Yalta on the Crimean peninsula and studied Literature in Moscow after a three-year military service with the Soviet North Sea Navy.  His first children’s book, ‘Kak khorosho darit podarky’ (Engl: How Nice it is to Give Presents) appeared in 1975 and already signalled those stylistic elements which have remained characteristic of his work: the playful lyricism, a blend of dialogue, verse and prose, dry humour and grotesque slapstick.  The animal protagonists of his first works – a monkey, a parrot, a baby elephant and a boa constrictor – encounter many more adventures in his countless children’s books and animated cartoons, and solve obscure problems, such as measuring the length of a giant snake or teaching parrots how to fly. Since 1975 Oster has written scripts for over seventy animated films, among them the beloved series ’38 Popugajew’ (Engl: 38 Parrots).

Grigory Oster’s plays for children have been performed throughout the country for over twenty years, and his cartoon figures are familiar to almost every Russian child.  He became known through his children’s books ‘Wrednye sowety’ (1990; Engl: Harmful Advice) and ‘Sadatshnik: Nenaglyadnoe posobie po matematike’ (1995; Engl: Unconventional Mathematical Exercises), through which he gave Russian children’s literature a new impetus following the collapse of the Soviet Union.  Until 1991 these books were banned from publication by state editorials. Once censorship was abolished, private publishers were free to publish them.  In his guidebook series, ‘Wrednye sowety’, Oster recommends unusual ways in which children can drive their parents mad: not washing their hands, bearing in mind that they will only become dirty again.  In short and lyrical passages he parodies childlike behaviour, outlines everyday situations, twists them around irreverently, and gets children to see the absurdity of their ways, enabling them to draw their own logical conclusions.  ‘Wrednye sowety’ are, as the author says, an “original vaccine against foolishness”. Grigory Oster is the first Russian author to address children at eye level, as he would adult readers and takes their ability to recognise the ironic undertone of his funny and obscure stories seriously.  In his other books he has adopted a similar poetic and didactic approach, adapting textual forms from adult domains, such as recipes and legal documents.  In ‘Konfetoyedeniye’ (1999; Engl: Sweeteatology) – which was awarded the IBBY Diploma of Honour (2000) – Oster shows how chocolate, candy and other sweets are bound to ruin one’s health and he does so in the form of legal paragraphs.

Grigory Oster’s children’s books are bestsellers and already belong to the classics of Russian literature.  The author has five children and lives with his family in Moscow.

Translator: Simone Peil

© international literature festival berlin