-"How sweet is my life ... ta-rá! ta-rá ... my bowels are flexing ... rá-ta-tá-ta-ra-rí ... the juices are flowing just right, straight through ... ra-tí-ta-doo-da-tá ... squeeze, bowels, squeeze ... tram-ba-ba-boom!" (in Envy)
Yury Olesha was born in Elizavetgrad, Ukraine, into a middle-class family. His father, Karl Antonovich, was an excise officer, an impoverished member of the gentry. In 1902 the family moved to the cosmopolitan port of Odessa, where Karl Antonovich was employed as as a tax inspector in a vodka distillery. According to Olesha, he should have avoided drinking himself: "... I do remember an episode when he put me on a windowsill and aimed a revolver at me. He was drunk, and Mama fell down on her knees, pleading with him to 'stop that.'" His early education Olesha received at home, where his Polish grandmother taught him Russian and mathematics. His contemporaries have recalled that he always spoke Russian with an imperceptile Lithuanian accent. In 1908 Olesha entered Rishelevskii gymnasium, graduating in 1917 with a gold medal in language and literature. He then studied law for two years at Novorossiikii University, Odessa.
Olesha began to write verse under the influence of Alexander Blok and Igor Severyanin. His ballad called 'Clarimonda' appeared in the newspaper The Southern Herald. In Odessa he participated in the activities of the Green Lamp, a literary discussion group, and the politically engaged literary circle, the Poets Collective, whose members also included Ilya Ilf. With Valentin Kataev he was inseparable. Kataev portrayed later his bohemian friend in My Diamond Wreath (1978).
Olesha's sister Wanda died of typhoid in 1919, at the height of civil strife in Ukraine. Rejecting his parents' monarchist sympathies, Olesha joined the Red Army for a year, serving as a telephonist in a Black Sea naval artillery battery. While working as a propagandist at the Bureau of Ukrainian Publications in Kharkov, he published his first story in the Kharkov newspaper Proletarian.
In 1922 Olesha went to Moscow, where he was employed by the railway journal Gudok, which had such writers as Isaak Babel, and Ilf and Petrov. "... my job consisted of stuffing envelopes with letters written by the section head to the various addresses of the worker correspondents," he later recalled. Olesha soon became a leading member of the editorial staff. His columns he published under the pseudonym of Zubilo (the Chisel). However, finding it difficult to adjust himself to boring routines, Olesha spent more time writing in restaurants than in his office. One of his favorite places was a Georgian restaurant on Tverskoi Bulevard, opposite the Telegraph Building.
In the 1920s Olesha published satirical verses, which became very popular, and sharp, critical articles. He stressed the freedom of expression, saying "The invisible realm is the adobe of attention and imagination. In it the wayfarer is not alone; two sisters walk at his side, leading him by the hand; they are Attention and Imagination." ...