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Chkhartishvili was born in Zestaponi to a Georgian father and a Jewish mother and since 1958 has lived in Moscow. Influenced by Japanese Kabuki theatre, he joined the historical-philological branch of the Institute of Asian and African Countries of Moscow State University as an expert on Japan. He worked as assistant to the editor-in-chief of the magazine Foreign Literature, but left in October 2000 to pursue a career as a fiction writer.
Under his given name of Grigory Chkhartishvili, he serves as editor-in-chief of the 20-volume Anthology of Japanese Literature, chairman of the board of a large "Pushkin Library " (Soros Fund), and is the author of the book The Writer and Suicide (Moscow, The New Literary Review, 1999). He has also contributed literary criticism and translations from Japanese, American and English literature under his own name. He is left handed, and has been known to smoke a pipe.
Under the pseudonym Boris Akunin, he has written many works of fiction, mainly novels and stories in the series The Adventures of Erast Fandorin, The Adventures of Sister Pelagia, The Adventures of the Master (following Nicholas Fandorin, Erast's grandson), all published in Russia by Zakharov Books, and the Roman-Kino ("Novel-Film") series set during World War I. Akunin's specialty is historical mysteries set in Imperial Russia. It was only after the first books of the Fandorin series were published to critical acclaim that the identity of B. Akunin (i.e., Chkhartishvili) was revealed.
Chkhartishvili "prefers to work with historical material" and has been called the "undisputed champion" of Russian crime fiction given that as Boris Akunin he "has written more than a dozen crime novels and has been widely appreciated by discerning readers . . . and has been translated into many languages."
"Akunin" () is a Japanese word that translates loosely to "villain". In his novel The Diamond Chariot, the author redefines an "akunin" as one who creates his own rules.
Akunin has been critical of Vladimir Putin's domestic and foreign policies, including the annexation of Crimea in 2014. In 2012, Putin attributed Akunin's critical attitudes to his Georgian background.
In the year of 2000, Akunin was nominated for the Smirnoff-Booker Prize. In September 2000, Akunin was named Russian Writer of the Year and won the "Antibooker" prize in 2000 for his Erast Fandorin novel Coronation, or the last of the Romanovs.
In 2003, the British Crime Writers' Association placed Akunin's novel The Winter Queen on the short list for the Dagger Award in Fiction. In 2004, he was a member of the jury at the 26th Moscow International Film Festival.