The writer Anatoly Aronov (Rybakov) was born in 1911 in the village of Derzhanovka in Chernigov Oblast, where his father Naum worked as an engineer at one of the factories of a local landowner.
Eight years later, the family moved to Moscow, where Anatoly continued his education at a gymnasium. The family lived on Arbat Street in the city center. Anatoly completed his schooling at an experimental communal school.
These boarding schools had emerged back in 1918, and they served to educate the children of Red Army soldiers, orphans, and Komsomol members who had fought in the Russian Civil War.
After finishing school, Anatoly Aronov worked for a time as a chauffeur and a stevedore at a factory, and he later enrolled in the Road Transport Faculty of the Institute of Transport. However, he did not study there for long. In 1933, he was arrested on charges of propaganda and counterrevolutionary agitation. The seemingly innocuous humorous poems he had published in the wall newspaper of the Institute were deemed a sign of hostility to the regime. Aronov was sentenced to three years of exile. After his release in 1936, he wandered across the country, frequently changing his place of residence and working various odd jobs. In addition to being banned from the large urban centers, he was also afraid of being rearrested. He maintained this itinerant lifestyle until the outbreak of the Soviet-German War. In late June 1941, following the Nazi invasion of the USSR, Anatoly was drafted. Once in the army, Aronov received an officer's rank and was sent to the front. He served as a supply officer in the motorized troops. In the course of the war, Anatoly took part in the battle of Stalingrad and the assault on Berlin, and his former conviction was expunged. He was awarded the Orders of the Patriotic War, 1st and 2nd class, and medals.
In 1946, after a long hiatus, Anatoly Aronov returned to his childhood home on Arbat Street in Moscow. He began to write, signing his works under his mother's last name, Rybakov. His children's book The Dirk was dedicated to his generation of the 1920s. The book became very popular, and it was followed by two sequels, The Bronze Bird (1956) and The Shot (1975). All three books received numerous screen adaptations.
In 1950, Anatoly Rybakov wrote the novel The Drivers, which he dedicated to his former chauffeur colleagues. For this work, he was awarded the Stalin Prize, 2nd class. Joseph Stalin, who personally vetted the lists of recipients, doubted Rybakov's eligibility for this award, given his former conviction for political offenses. Rybakov was rescued by the timely intervention of Alexander Fadeyev, chairman of the Union of Soviet Writers, who showed Stalin Rybakov's clearance certificate. In 1960, Rybakov was fully rehabilitated.
Anatoly Rybakov wrote extensively about the hardships of the postwar period. His straightforward narratives were warmly received by the readership and, on the whole, appreciated by the Party leadership. At the same time, in the early 1950s Rybakov began to write a tetralogy of novels titled Children of the Arbat.
It featured people who had grown up on the ideals of the Revolution, and depicted the repressive state apparatus and life in those times. The novel was completed in 1982, but published only in 1987, in the years of Gorbachev's perestroika. The book satisfied the psychological need of contemporary Soviet people to have the crimes of Stalinism exposed, and it thus had a considerable impact. The novel was adapted to the screen in 2004.
1978 saw the publication of Rybakov's novel Heavy Sand. Its storyline traces the history of a Jewish family over 30 years, against a backdrop of wars and revolutions. The narrative ends in 1942, in a Jewish shtetl occupied by German troops. Despite being heavily censored, the novel explicitly addressed the subject of the Holocaust. At the end of the text, the author reproduced an actual inscription from a monument to Holocaust victims, with Hebrew writing. The novel achieved a broad resonance and had a considerable impact on the Soviet Jewish readership. In the early 2000s, it was adapted to a TV series in Russia. However, this screen version excised the Jewish elements of the original text, which had been so important to Soviet Jews in the 1970s.
In the early 1990s, Rybakov served as Secretary of the Presidium of the Union of Soviet Writers. In 1991, he received an honorary doctorate from Tel Aviv University.
1997 saw the publication of his Memoir Novel, which became a valuable source of information about the history of the Soviet era, including the attitude of the authorities to the Jewish theme.
Anatoly Rybakov died in New York in 1998. He is buried at the Novokuznetsk Cemetery in Moscow.