Borrowed Time

Page 1

Mikhail Berman-Tsikinovsky

Book I

BORROWED TIME New translation from Russian to English by Alexander Burry

Boston 2018

Copyright Š 2017 by the author All rights reserved.

WARNING Without limitation, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored, or introduced in any manner into any system either by mechanical, electronic, handwritten, or other means, without the prior permission of the author Edited by the author.

ISBN 978-0-9988732-4-4 Library of Congress Control Number: 2018931034

Published by: Aspekt Publishing Budget Printing Center 40 Weir St., Taunton, MA 02780 508-880-4729 Printed in the United States of America


Immigrant literature offers unique insights into national and personal histories. Literary descriptions of people who move to another country can powerfully demonstrate the profound distance, both geographical and psychological, that this transformation entails. Immigration involves a separation from one’s native language, friends and family, customs, and sense of one’s place within a nation and its history. At the same time, this transition also consists of an intensely creative act: the refashioning of one’s self in a radically different environment. Mikhail Berman-Tsikinovsky, a Russian-Jewish novelist, playwright, and poet living in Chicago, belongs to a rich tradition of writers, including Vladimir Nabokov, Sergei Dovlatov, Eduard Limonov, and others who have explored this process of separation from one’s homeland and reintegration in America. Borrowed Time contributes to this genre of immigrant literature through its description of the hero’s perceptions of the “New World,” and his efforts to adapt to it. However, like the aforementioned writers’ works, Berman-Tsikinovsky describes this experience in a highly original and complex style, and explores a wide range of psychological, philosophical, and spiritual themes. Thus, the term “émigré literature” is only a starting point for understanding this profoundly personal and autobiographical novel. Berman-Tsikinovsky was born in Kharkov, Ukraine in 1937. A doctor by profession, he graduated from Kharkov Medical Institute in 1961, and earned a Candidacy of Medical Sciences (Ph.D. in Hematology) in 1970. As part of the “third wave” of Soviet emigration, he moved to Chicago in 1978. Beginning in the 1980s, he has established himself as a prolific writer with a growing international reputation. Already in the Soviet Union, he had started writing poetry, and over the past three decades, he has published works in a variety of genres: lyric and narrative poetry, novels, short stories, plays, and essays. These works have been translated into English, French, German, and Italian. His plays in particular have reached a wide audience, as they have been performed in the United States, Russia, and throughout Europe. Several of his works have been set to music as well.


Borrowed Time, published in Moscow in 2004 and translated into English here for the first time, depicts the experiences of Musya Belochkin, whose initials (M.B.) and occupations as a doctor and writer underscore his autobiographical qualities, and his role as an alter ego of Berman-Tsikinovsky himself. Belochkin is similarly a Kharkovite, a doctor who emigrates to the United States, and shares family, romantic, and cultural experiences with heroes of other works by BermanTsikinovsky. However, Musya’s experiences are presented in a unique, non-linear fashion. They span several decades, including the hero’s memories of childhood and youth, his mid-life immigration, and conversations with his older brother at an unspecified later time in his life. As such, Borrowed Time can be termed a Bildungsroman, as it portrays the hero’s education as a student, doctor, married man, father, adulterer, immigrant, and perhaps most importantly, poet. The structure of the novel, though, consisting of six parts, is much more complex than this series of events indicates. Part One begins as one might expect, with Musya’s earliest memories from childhood to adolescence, interspersed with momentous political events, from the Soviet struggle against Nazi Germany to the death of Stalin in 1953. But Part Two, rather than continuing chronologically, traces Musya’s history further back, before his birth. In a telephone conversation with his older brother, Musya, now living in the United States, learns about their parents’ ancestry, family history, and professional and personal lives, in the process supplementing his own childhood reminiscences, given in Part One, with shared memories reconstructed together with his brother. Part Three, moving forward in time, begins with Musya’s experiences as an oncologist in the Soviet Union, but switches back to his first marriage, and then a report of his immigration experience to an unnamed person (the author himself as interlocutor of his alter ego), and closing with a poem about Julius Caesar. Part Four continues Musya’s report of emigration, then switches to a transcription of the hero’s conversation with an elderly lady, Elizaveta Vasilevna, whose memories go back to the tsarist era, before closing with an account of an affair that leads to the breakup of his marriage. Part Five, the epilogue, consists of a second conversation with his brother, this time specifically about their memories of Kharkov, and is followed by a lengthy series of poems by Musya that constitute the sixth and final part. Thus, Berman-Tsikinovsky constructs the hero’s biography through a complex, layered series of experiences and interactions. Events are repeated in different voices and from different points of view. In this sense, the novel structurally recalls Mikhail Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time (1840), with its deliberate reordering of the hero Pechorin’s story, and its use of two other narrators before Pechorin’s own voice enters the novel. Berman-Tsikinovsky’s use of “found material,” that is, the verbatim transcription of two conversations, similarly recalls the device,


used by Lermontov as well as Pushkin and other nineteenth-century Russian writers, of the transmission of others’ material, often in the form of diaries or sketches. As with his Russian predecessors, BermanTsikinovsky’s seemingly straightforward reporting of these conversations masks its literariness, especially since the various sections of the novel enter into dialogue with each other, creating implicit contrasts and directing the reader to consider different points of view. The narrative disjunctions in the author’s portrait of his hero also demand a kind of reconstruction of the events in his life. Thus, BermanTsikinovsky’s detailed description of Musya’s early years and his reminiscences, which take place long after their actual occurrence, invite the reader to try to fill in important gaps: What has happened after the breakup of his marriage? What kind of family life has the hero experienced since then? How has his medical practice developed following his reestablishment of it in the United States, as a middle-aged man in the prime of his professional career? And what about his writing? These questions are never answered, and this lack of resolution leaves the novel open-ended. However, it also constitutes a larger theme in itself, as it points to the difficulty of ever knowing or reporting another person’s life narrative, or even one’s own. Musya Belochkin’s poems represent another important stylistic device. Like Yuri Zhivago’s poems concluding Boris Pasternak’s novel Doctor Zhivago (1957), Berman-Tsikinovsky uses the device of mise en abyme, as the poems represent not only the culmination of Musya’s ongoing education as a poet, but also the author’s own poetic career. Musya’s poems can be found not only in Berman-Tsikinovsky’s published poetry collections but are also attributed to characters in other works. Since Musya himself is also a character in several of BermanTsikinovsky’s short stories, he recalls characters like Tolstoy’s Nekhliudov, similarly used in several works and functioning as a kind of alter ego of the author. Musya notes, in one of his conversations with his brother, that he himself wrote Borrowed Time, underscoring the mise en abyme device. The reflection of Berman-Tsikinovsky in his hero illuminates the novel’s framing technique, and contributes to its complex, absorbing exploration of the concepts of author and hero, fiction and reality, and poetry and prose. Berman-Tsikinovsky’s novel immediately strikes the reader with its fresh, vivid descriptions of both Soviet and immigrant realia. From Musya’s and his brother’s accounts of the trainride into evacuation during the Nazi invasion to the description of the intense heat of the Chicago summers, Berman-Tsikinovsky describes the events Musya experiences in lively, entrancing prose. The novel depicts a variety of new beginnings in Musya’s life: wartime evacuation, graduation and matriculation in medical school, arrivals in Vienna and Rome on the way to America, and new love at the age of 46. It describes a process of


continual transformation, from war to peace, emigration to stability, and a cycle of disruption, reconciliation, and harmony in human relations. All of these transformations are accompanied by Musya’s continuous growth and blossoming as a poet. His readings of other poets, especially Alexander Blok, alternate with his own lyrics. The series of poems at the end of the novel marks his arrival as a full-fledged poet. Perhaps the dominant theme of the novel, like that of so much émigré fiction, is memory. Musya’s conversations, poetry, relationships, and even work as a doctor can all be seen as efforts to remember or recapture something from the past, or – in the case of his medical practice – to honor the memories of patients who suffered and died in a Soviet Union that was slow and inflexible in adopting the latest treatments. Indeed, Musya’s dissatisfaction with Soviet medicine is the impetus for his decision to immigrate. Some of the most moving passages in the novel, moreover, are Musya’s older brother’s reminiscences of a Kharkov that changed a great deal over the course of his lifetime, and their shared sense of a city that will outlive them and flourish. In this conversation, as in other passages of the novel, Berman-Tsikinovsky conveys a confident vision of an eternity that exists no matter how brief our individual lives may seem to be. In Chapter 6, Musya mourns the death of his classmate Lera from leukemia, having learned about her disease just a day after his father had died. His musings on these deaths inspire both the title of his (and Berman-Tsikinovsky’s) novel, and his conviction of the presence of eternity: Life is different from a novel. Novels remain, but life leaves all of us. We are all living on borrowed time. When you wring out time, only the events remain. Nothing remains of us. But actually, that’s not true! Our parents and teachers loved us, and we loved them. We loved each other for our purity. And this pure love, this ethereal love is always part of us.


Borrowed Time presents two particular challenges to the translator. The novel includes two sections of transcription of Musya’s conversations with his brother and an elderly émigré woman in Rome. I have chosen to reproduce these transcriptions as closely as possible to their original form, maintaining the author’s omission of punctuation. My goal is to preserve this transcriptive style while also conveying the prose clearly despite the lack of periods, commas, quotation marks, etc. The novel also includes a great deal of poetry throughout, both by Musya and


other poets, as well as Soviet-era songs. With the songs in particular, I have tried to rhyme whenever possible, in order to convey their musical qualities. In the case of Musya’s poetry, however, I have omitted the rhymes while attempting to maintain the rhythm; my goal here was to emphasize the meaning of the individual lines as closely as possible. There were several technical decisions to make as well. I have converted Berman-Tsikinovsky’s metric units into imperial units, for greater ease of understanding for American readers. The exception is a sign the hero describes in Germany, which I kept in kilometers as it would appear in reality. In addition, the names of some of the countries, cities, and towns the author describes in Eastern Europe have changed since the breakup of the Soviet Union. I have chosen to keep them, as Musya would have perceived them, rather than anachronistically updating them. For this reason, I have used “Belorussia” rather than “Belarus,” “Kharkov” rather than “Kharkiv,” etc.

Alexander Burry, Columbus OH, USA November, 2016


A Novel

Dedicated to children

And for the people, for their living hearts, Roaming in their bends and curves, their growths, You illustrate their pleasures and their torments, Their undulating lives, their ebbs and flows. Osip Mandelstam December 9-27, 1936

PART ONE Chapter 1

The Trolley The smell of my childhood is strawberry soap… We returned from evacuation to Kharkov via Moscow. We traveled several days from Central Asia, from Tashkent. In Moscow, we went to the Mausoleum, where we waited in a long line. After inching forward for hours, we finally walked down some steps. Then we looked at Lenin, lying in his service jacket with the Order of the Red Banner on his chest. And we went past, like everyone else. The atmosphere was almost mystical. In any case, it seemed that way to me, a child of eight. Climbing the steps, we left the semidarkness of the Mausoleum for the broad, open space of snowcovered Red Square. My mother and father held my hand. Anxiously, I raised my head and asked loudly, in a childish voice: “We saw Lenin today, but when will we see Stalin?” My parents nervously hushed me.


We arrived in Kharkov on January 12, 1946. The train pulled into the old South Station. There were no underground passageways. It would be many years before a new station was built. The city lay in ruins. It had already been two and a half years since the liberation, but more than 60% of the downtown homes were in effect destroyed. Imagine for a moment that you are a resident of Chicago, New York, or Boston, and you return home to see two thirds of your city wiped out. It was a warm, sunny day, and after walking around Moscow in felt boots, we were not dressed right for the weather. Water dripped from the roofs, and our boots squished in the melting snow. We took a cart to my uncle and his family. We couldn’t go home: strangers from the bicycle factory lived in our prewar apartment. This factory, one of the first in the city to operate again, undertook the reconstruction of our building, which had burned down almost to its foundations from the firebombing, and settled its workers in it. My father was a military man, a captain, and so was his brother. My uncle called on two submachine gunners, and with their protection, we moved back into our old apartment on the fourth floor. The apartment consisted of two small rooms, each 135 square feet, a kitchen with a bath in it, and a small corridor. We took the back room, and the family from the bicycle factory, a married couple without children, stayed in the front room. In about a month, my parents helped them obtain their own apartment, and they moved there without mishap… The first postwar USSR Supreme Soviet elections were to take place on February 10, 1946. In a meeting in Moscow right before the elections, Stalin gave a speech about the necessity of restoring the economy, destroyed during the war. Due to a combination of circumstances, on that very day the first postwar trolley line, connecting Gorky Park and South Station, was launched in Kharkov. The route passed through Tevelev Square, the highest point of the city, not counting Cold Mountain. I distinctly remember the trolley slowly crawling to the square, climbing Seminarists’ Descent. The trolleycar was crammed full, and my father held me in his arms. Then he got a seat, and I could look out the window. The trolley climbed slowly, barely moving, and the thought whirled through my head that it might stop altogether and roll backwards, and the river was there (we had only just passed the bridge), and that we would fall into it… But the trolley handled the ascent, made it to Tevelev Square and continued on, and we arrived safely at the last stop, Gorky Park. I remembered this trolley, its slow upward motion and my feeling of fear, and then, my complete happiness.


Chapter 2

War and Peace The life of my generation passed under the banner of war. The war was enormous, and not one person in the country (in the European part of the Soviet Union, at least) was unaffected by it. The war my generation went through was bigger than the one described by Tolstoy in War and Peace, both in terms of lives lost and its impact on the people as a whole. The war instantly erased our past, habitual, settled life. It completely swept over us. And it was exactly the way it was described in a song, known by literally everybody, which soon became a people’s song: Rise up and fight, great nation, Rise up for deadly war. Defeat the fascist power, Defeat the cursed horde. Flare up with noble fury A wave that bursts ashore. The people’s war is coming, The people’s sacred war. The war uprooted an enormous mass of people, and our family was among them. My mother had no doubt that we would need to evacuate, and the sooner the better. We left Kharkov in one of the first trains. A mama with two kids: one six years old, the other three and a half. There was an evacuation hospital unit on board. The train moved east. Once a German plane, appearing in the air, flew in a hedgehopping parallel to the train. Mothers picked up their children and held them to the window, trying to show the pilot that it was not a military train, and should not be bombed. And the pilot didn’t bomb us. Maybe because it saw the Red Cross symbol and the children’s faces, or maybe because it was a reconaissance plane that didn’t have bombs or instructions to fire upon a train. It is impossible to know, but for some reason I want to believe that this pilot, a participant in a cruel, terrible war, showed us mercy. We spent several months in Eckheim in the former Volga German Autonomous Republic. The small city stood on a high bank of one of the Volga tributaries. In winter, we children sledded from the steep slopes. When the Germans approached, we headed south, on a steamship along the Volga. Closer to Stalingrad, it seemed as though the water around us was boiling.


From Stalingrad we made our way to Central Asia, and settled in the city of Termez, where mama began to serve in the medical unit of the mortar-machine gun academy. It was the summer of 1942. Termez has scorching sand that you can fry an egg on, and an equally hot wind that was called an “afghan.” The burning sand would roast your skin – walking barefoot was dangerous. The sun and heat were persistent and tormenting. From 11:00 or 12:00 to 3:00 or 4:00, four hours of the day, no one was outside. Sunstroke was the main bugbear of my childhood. You could even die from it. Life revolved around the academy, and the word “academy,” along with the word “sunstroke,” was a major motif of my childike consciousness. But the word “war” dominated all others. The word “basmachi” also came up often in conversation. These were people from beyond the Amu River, from Afghanistani territory. Near-daily conversations about the basmachi created a tense, anxious mood. Military action was constantly discussed. Sitting at the table, I listened to the radio and made paper toys. We didn’t have actual toys, so we had to make them ourselves by cutting something out of paper and gluing it together. Broadcasts of the latest news, interrupted by lengthy, plaintive Uzbek songs, were the important events of the day. I would sit and wait until these songs finished and the words “From the Soviet Information Bureau…” resounded from the radio. We followed the war by radio, and I also found out about Kharkov passing from the hands of one country to another that way. Orienting oneself to the broadcasts without knowing the map was almost impossible. This was probably the source of my early interest in geography. Studying a map, I began to understand the events taking place. The war seemed eternal. From day to day we would get radio announcements about it. Everyone got used to this situation. There seemed to be no other way of life. Therefore, the end of the war was unexpected. I remember cadets and officers commemorating the victory that day, firing their pistols into the air. The celebration of the end of the war was the greatest joy of my childhood, although on the other hand there was something in this joy that interrupted the usual routine of life, destroying the sense of eternity embodied by the war. It was hard to recognize the new state of life without war. Peace was a new concept, a new part of reality. We needed to get used to this new concept. We needed to step into it from the war that had only recently encompassed everything. Tolstoy hit on it magnificently with his title War and Peace. First war, and then peace. War and peace...


On the whole, I remember Central Asia in fragments, separate scenes. We had a fat-tailed sheep. My brother and I were responsible for milking it when our mother wasn’t at home. And although we were forbidden to go out in the middle of the day, so that we wouldn’t get sunstroke, we sometimes did so anyway. We went very far from home. Our goal was to find clover to feed to the sheep. The road there and back was covered in sand. Sand all around, sand absolutely everywhere. And in the evenings, we played games. One of our games was to see who could sit alone in a sand valley for the longest. It was not easy to withstand this for very long, since jackals always howled in the evenings. Their howling was prolonged, and somehow piercing, and it was frightening to hear. The Uzbeks dresssed in cotton robes. For whole days they sat in teahouses, drinking tea almost by the liter, and this saved them from the insane heat. Almost all of them were very dry and thin, but once two very fat Uzbeks came to our home and stayed for the evening. They slept on the floor. I had a turtle and a little hedgehog. This was my farm. In the morning I found out that one of the Uzbeks, in his sleep, had beaten my hedgehog to death. It was my first experience with death. I cried and mourned. I hated these two passing Uzbeks. I buried the hedghog. I dug a little hole and buried him there. Lenin was right when he said that film was the most important of our arts. Our movie theater was outdoors. Benches were arranged in rows, and in the evenings, after sunset, they showed movies. From the theater you could see the fortress walls, beyond which was the academy. It was said that these walls have stood since the time of Timur. There weren’t many films, and they were shown for several weeks, but we children went to the movie theater every day. We learned each film by heart, and then acted them out, competing to see who could remember the most trivial details. In the movie theater, everyone nibbled sunflower seeds, and after every show the ground was thickly covered with shells. Your feet simply drowned in them. We celebrated the major Soviet holidays together. On November 7, there was a concert for Unity Day in the academy, and I read poems of Simonov: Daring Major Deev And his comrade Major Petrov. Served in the Civil War, Twenty years before.


After the readings, Colonel Meshechkin, the director of the academy, handed out presents: dolls with cookies and candy from American aid packages. These packages also contained newspapers, canned meat, and chocolate. The academy was the center of life for the grown-ups. At first, nine months were allocated for training cadets. But in time, this period was shortened to six months, and then to three. Sometimes unfortunate incidents took place during the training. Due to someone’s ineptitude or carelessness, mines would occasionally explode right in the firing range. When they graduated from the academy, the cadets were sent to the front, accompanied by one of the instructing officers, who got to know the boys well after a few months of study, and came to love them. Delivering the cadets according to the lists of the living, an officer from the academy accompanied them to the front for two or three weeks. The trips to and from the front each took about a week, maybe a bit more. Thus, the officer returned after about a month and a half, and by the time he got back, 70-80 percent of the cadets had already been killed. Time was not divided into past and present, but by what happened before and after the war. Stories about what happened before the war were very entertaining for the children. The older kids told the spellbound younger kids what the toys and candy were like then. The older ones fought about which were best. My brother said, “Well, of course the chocolate was good. But the fruit jelly candy – that was really something! That tasted better than anything!” And I imagined that if you started a table of ranks for everything that was tasty, then “fruit jelly candy” would undoubtedly be in the top rank. There wasn’t any ice cream. None of us younger children had ever eaten ice cream. The older ones remembered it: “Now before the war there was plum ice cream, and also Eskimo, and there was also that Plombir.” We listened to them, and ice cream seemed to be something perfectly fantastic and unbelievably wonderful. I saw ice cream for the first time in my life when we left Termez for the so-called Stalin camps in the city of Chirchik, not far from Tashkent. Right there, at the Tashkent railroad station, as an eight-yearold boy, I saw it for the first time. It was sold in portions that were pressed from iron molds. Squeezing out a small, two-ounce portion, the salesman wrapped a waffle around it from two sides and gave it to the customer. Having received my portion, I ate ice cream for the first time in my life. I licked it slowly and carefully, licked it to the end, and then ate the waffle cone.


Besides the movies, there was one other type of entertainment for both grown-ups and children during the war: the phonograph. Oh, that light blue box! My father brought it from the front. There were very few records, mostly war songs: A fire blazes in the stove, And on the logs, mournful tar lies, In the hut an accordion sings of love, About your smile and your eyes. These songs were played hundreds, maybe even thousands of times. They sounded like hymns. Everyone knew them, sang them, danced to them. We were two or three thousand miles from the front, but we still took part in the war. And in the end, we took part in the victory as well. When an officer showed us the list of the cadets that had recently been sent to the front, and read us the names of the guys who had died, everyone cried. My mama, too, cried. It was the eternal lament of Yaroslavna.

Chapter 3

Peace after the War The radio broadcasts of two singers, the baritone Vladimir Bunchikov and the tenor Vladimir Nechaev, have stayed in my memory as markers of that time. They were heard almost every day. Classical music was often performed: Tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto, Liszt’s second rhapsody, Brahms’s Hungarian dances. Tchaikovsky was extremely popular. He was considered the greatest composer in the world. Only Beethoven could compete with him. And if a poll of the Soviet population had been taken then, and they were asked which composer was the greatest of all times and nations, the resounding answer would have been Tchaikovsky. On April 1 prices were lowered. This was a unique and very pleasant phenomenon. It’s hard to say why it coincided with April 1. Maybe because it was the beginning of spring? According to the calendar, spring begins on March 1, but in most of the former Soviet Union, March is a cold month, with rain and snow. Thus, spring actually begins on April 1. So maybe the day wasn’t chosen by chance. The general mood improved with the start of spring, and the lowering of prices also helped. Seeing the new prices raised the spirits of salespeople and customers alike, making them more animated.


Every day, something new and enlivening took place. All of it was announced on the radio and written about in the papers. The radio played an enormous role in our lives. As I’ve already mentioned, classical music was often played. Sergei Lemeshev and Ivan Kozlovsky, the leading tenors, ruled everyone’s souls. Their voices sounded very different. And there were two camps: one preferring Lemeshev, the other Kozlovsky. I favored Lemeshev. Operatic basses – Mark Reizen, Alexander Prigorov, Maxim Dormidontovich Mikhailov – also were constantly heard. One of them sang every day. Most of the time they sang arias from well-known Russian operas – Ivan Susanin, Eugene Onegin, Boris Godunov. Some Western operas were also popular, especially Gounod’s Faust and, of course, Carmen. Female singers Nadezheda Obukhova, Valeria Barsova, Vera Davydova, and Elizaveta Chavdar were very popular. The entire musical culture centered around performers, who numbered no more than ten. New, younger singers would gradually appear, but it was a long time before they became famous. Everything was very firm, serious, and lasting. This stability and constancy imparted a feeling of protection. We really viewed the government as if it were our mother. We did not have a car, and the thought of buying one never even entered our minds. We had no savings or investments. Our mother did not wear fur coats, gold jewelry or diamonds. She didn’t even have a wedding ring. We only bought what was necessary: food and clothing. We went on trips to Crimea, and later, to the Caucasus, but we didn’t go on any special trips around the Soviet Union. To put it bluntly, we ate up all our money. Even though our parents earned a good income, we lived paycheck to paycheck. It was different in some families. Someone else’s mother might buy herself a fur coat and some jewelry, and not what her child wanted. It all depended on one’s priorities. For example, we had a bicycle. But this didn’t mean that those who didn’t have one were poor. In such cases, it only meant that the money was spent on something else. I spent most of my time playing soccer. My brother liked to read. Very early on, starting in the second grade, he devoured thick books like Stepanov’s Port Arthur, and spent a lot of time reading. But I liked playing soccer and spent time with my friends, who also loved this activity. From the ages of 8 to 11, I played soccer three or four hours a day, and almost never read. I did my homework quickly, partly right at school during breaks. We played in an abandoned lot, and it was not always 11 against 11. We kept count accurately, and it often reached astronomical numbers: 85 against 62, or something of that sort.


My first deliberate lie is connected with soccer. I had ingrown toenails on my big toes. Even after an operation, these areas often became inflamed, and to prevent infection, my mother forbade me to play soccer for some time. But I really wanted to play. And the other children and I were sneaky. They would come by and, using their backs as cover, I would take a deflated soccer ball from the closet unnoticed, stick it under my belt, and put some clothing over it. We would go out, telling my mother that we were going to walk around somewhere. Did she guess that I was tricking her? Perhaps. When we got to the field, we blew up the ball and played. Then we let out the air again, brought it home, and snuck it back into the closet. Besides soccer, chess was very popular. My brother and I both knew how to play. Our father taught us, or maybe we had already learned it in evacuation. In 1946, the chess champion Alexander Alekhin died. I followed the matches in 1948: the final ranking was Mikhail Botvinnik, Vasily Smyslov, Paul Keres, Max Euwe, Samuel Reshevsky. One of our players – Smyslov or Botvinnik, intentionally lost to Keres, so that he could occupy third place, pushing the American Reshevsky into fourth, and allowing Soviet players to occupy the first three places. We always had a chess tournament on our birthdays. That was our ideal world – soccer and chess. And, of course, the movies. There were popular clubs in our neighborhood, for instance Club MVD, and they regularly showed good films. There were many so-called “trophy films.” I remember the comedy Charley’s Aunt and several musical films from that time, such as the Austrian film The Great Waltz, about Johann Strauss, and the famous Tarzan the Ape Man. Of course, they showed both wartime and post-war films. Then there was the theater. I remember my sensations of that very well. I went to the opera for the first time when I was nine or ten. Watching Eugene Onegin, I didn’t know how the duel would end: with Onegin killing Lensky, or the other way around. I watched everything with fascination, and to me this scene was like the lottery or Russian roulette. Clearly I far preferred Lensky, and therefore was very upset when Onegin killed him. I cried, but then felt awfully disappointed when after the fatal shot, Lensky got up as if nothing had happened and even bowed in response to the applause. I also remember our trip to the circus. The show was chock full: there were various beasts, and there were also horses. And then I got sick the very next day, sicker than I’d ever been in my life. I had a fever, and my temperature rose to 104 or 105 degrees. Fearing that I might infect my brother, my parents had me sleep on a cot in the kitchen, and I lay there for more than a week. When I started to recover, I looked as if I’d had typhus. I was thin as a stick. Such was my “horse sickness.”


At the time of my illness, overcoats had to be made for me and my brother. As a soldier, my father received a length of beautiful light blue cloth to get a uniform made for himself. From what remained, they were able to make our coats, too. We went for measurements, and this was fun. I couldn’t really imagine what the coat would look like, and how I would look in it, and I impatiently awaited the moment when it would be ready. And so, while I was still lying on the cot, I finally tried on my new outfit, and began to wear it after my recovery. I wore it for a few years, naturally. We also wore boots, and together, it looked almost like a uniform… The making of the coats and my coat itself was forever linked in my mind to the visit to the circus and the “horse sickness.”

Chapter 4 School

There were some talented kids in my school. Of course, I’m talking about the best students. Most of them became physicists later. I don’t know if anyone else became a poet. Maybe I was the only one. One of our teachers, Mark Ambramovich Bortsov, was a celebrity, the author of a textbook on Medieval history, which was used by all students in the Soviet Union. From my earliest years, I always wanted the teachers to like me, and I noticed this in myself early on. Most of all, I wanted our homeroom teacher, Tatyana Pavlovna Gorina, to like me. Tatyana Pavlovna had big, slightly bulging eyes, and blond hair. I thought she was beautiful. In keeping with the demands of “service,” as the chairman of a pioneer unit, I spent more time alone with her than the other students did. And although it’s hard to believe today, back then I was frightfully, unbelievably shy. For this reason, whenever I was listening to Tatyana Pavlovna, I always looked at the floor. I had an enormous desire to look at her, but I didn’t dare to, and from embarrassment I missed half of what she said to me. My crush on Tatyana Pavlovna even inspired a painting of her, and to this day I can write her name exactly the way she signed it in our workbooks in those days. Always calm and even-tempered, she seemed to love us all equally. But I’m sure that no one loved her the way I did. The end of seventh grade was a crucial time for me. Spring of 1951 came, and on April 6 (of course you can’t check whether I’m remembering the date right – you’ll simply have to believe or not believe me), although I wasn’t yet fourteen, I got my first shave at the barbershop. The shop was located in a one-floor building resembling a


little shed. The barber was short and bald. To this day, he stands before my eyes as if he were really here. But the sense of abruptly passing from one state to another was not connected to the shave, but the moment when our annual class picture was taken. I was given a watch not long before the photograph. In the picture, I am sitting in the first row, with a little moustache, my left hand moved to the side to make the watch more visible. I remember how at that moment, I felt completely grown-up. After seventh grade, when I was fourteen, I grew very little. So the jump to adulthood really did take place then. In the fifth, sixth, and seventh grades we took our exams at the end of the year. Classes ended around May 20, and exams began right away. At the first exam, we always brought flowers, usually lilacs. I like roses most of all, but lilacs were the flowers of my school years. The smell of blooming lilacs, May following April – there’s nothing more wonderful than the day the school year ends, and relaxation, soccer, summer lie ahead… Nature in Kharkov, as throughout Ukraine, is wonderful, and its spring aromas are just as wonderful. Spring is nice everywhere. For us, lilacs were the sign of spring, the first blooming of lilacs. It didn’t matter if you bought the lilacs in a bazaar or somewhere else, or cut them yourself. The feeling you got when you left home with a bouquet of lilacs and went to school for the first exam was unforgettable. Everyone brought bouquets, and the class was simply filled with the smell of lilacs. I liked school. The teachers liked me, and I liked them. Now, when there is bad weather and gray clouds float in the sky, I close my eyes and can see our class, smell the May lilacs of Kharkov. Lilacs, all around – In every town and village I looked for you all over, Made mischief by the light, I looked where there are lilacs, And when I finally found you My life had reached its twilight. Every person’s life is unique, and every time of life is unique. People think that their lives don’t resemble those of other people. And that’s probably true. We were happy with what we had. Books, of course, played a formative role in our development. I read War and Peace in the fifth grade, or between fifth and sixth grades. With a time lag of three years, I caught up with my brother, who had read it at an even younger age.


We were born in a great country with a great history and culture. But the main thing was that we were born in a country with a great language. Much later, I asked myself many times which country I would have chosen to be born in if I had the option: England, France, America, Italy, Germany? And the answer is the same every time: I would have wanted to be born in Russia again. And I would have wanted my native language to be Russian. My bias toward Russian could be considered selfish. I need this language to read Tolstoy, Pushkin, Turgenev, Gogol, Lermontov, those magicians of poetry, those great figures, into whose world only native Russian speakers can submerge themselves. At the same time, to get the real feeling of Tolstoy, you also need to have a deep understanding of his country. If you are French, you won’t understand it, you won’t get it the way you get Napoleon, Balzac, or Maupassant. Do we have a choice? Can we choose our mother? Is it possible to think that it would be better to have been born to a different mother? The thought seems unnatural to me. On the other hand, many immigrants often say: “What exactly did we lose in Russia? It lags so far behind America and Western Europe. Why didn’t our parents immigrate sooner? Then we still would have been with them, but we would have had a more cultivated, advanced country.” My conscious repeated choice of Russia as my desired homeland has been formed by the school of life that I went through in that country, by the people who shaped me. We learned morality from Andrei Bolkonsky and Pierre Bezukhov. Their role in our lives is comparable to Jesus’s role in John the Baptist’s. Someone may say, “Such a comparison is madness and blasphemy.” But if we can compare Tolstoy to the prophets of the Old and New Testaments, then I think the heroes this genius created can be compared to those of the Holy Bible. The formation of consciousness starts at the moment when a person recognizes himself as an individual. Individual consciousness is formed in the family and in school. Next comes the formation of national consciousness. And books like War and Peace play an enormous role in this process. Later, or maybe at the same time, social consciousness is formed. The social environment and social relations we find ourselves in have been conditioned to a great extent by lack of private ownership of the means of production. Precisely this socioeconomic foundation has also instilled in us those qualities that we can call virtues, along with those that can be considered shortcomings.


Chapter 5

About Myself and Anna Karenina The second great work of Russian literature I read was Anna Karenina. I have a special, personal relationship with this book. Fifteen years after I first read this novel, I began to analyze the thoughts and sensations passing through my mind in connection with Anna Karenina and War and Peace. My analysis was based on strange, frightening comparisons of Napoleon with Pontius Pilate, Andrei Bolkonsky with John the Baptist, and Pierre Bezukhov with Christ. Then, fifteen years later, I wrote the poem “On the death of Anna Karenina.” Several layers of sensations went into it, but first and foremost was my adolescent love for Anna. I was in love with her just the way I was in love with my teacher Tatyana Pavlovna Gorina. I even thought that they resembled each other in a way. For me, Anna Karenina embodied the best feminine qualities. My relation to her is like that of Christians to Mary, mother of God. I think only the Biblical Rachel can compare to Tolstoy’s Anna in terms of nobility and purity. The image of Rachel can be found often in Russian poets such as Bunin, Mandelstam, and Akhmatova. I revere Rachel, but Anna, as a modern woman, is even dearer to me. And closer. When I wrote “On the death of Anna Karenina,” the feelings I experienced were deeply personal. I was jealous of Vronsky, and at times even of Tolstoy. Anna Karenina, for me, is the greatest novel in world literature. And although over the course of many years, my bedside book was Joseph and His Brothers, Anna Karenina, like a first love, always held a special place, forever dedicated to her, in my heart. When I was 30, I wrote an essay about this novel. I sent it to a friend, and it got lost. I can’t undertake to restore the agitated feelings that characterized my youthful work, but I’ll recount the basic thoughts. I began by analyzing the first three sentences of the novel. “All happy families are alike. Each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. Everything was confusion at the Oblonskys’.” We recognize the music of a great composer, whether it is Mozart, Beethoven, or Tchaikovsky, from the first measures. In almost the same way, we recognize Pushkin, Lermontov, or Blok from the first lines. The first two lines of Anna Karenina are rhythmically similar. And it’s easy to recognize Tolstoy in this rhythm. The next sentence, “All was confusion at the Oblonskys’,” sounds like the striking of an alarm, like a premature ventricular contraction, like a signal of the destruction of the calm flow of life.


Despite its simple, laconic quality, it carries a sense of something threatening, tragic. The sentence is a kernel of sorts, out of which grows the complex, multi-branched tree of the novel. It would be silly, of course, to try to “correct” Tolstoy. But I would make this sentence a separate paragraph, and start a new one with what follows. Although on the other hand, perhaps Tolstoy’s solution really is better. By not drawing too much attention to this sentence, he lays the foundation for delayed action, which remains hidden, so as to burst forth at the necessary time and place. The first two sentences, of course, long ago became an aphorism. And this is not by accident. There are probably no lines in world literature that equal them in depth and all-encompassing understanding of human relations. And so, I said that in the words “All was confusion at the Oblonskys’ house,” as in counterpoint, the whole tragedy of Anna Karenina was planted. Then I wrote about the role of the train in the novel. Let’s pay close attention to this: the first meeting between Anna and Vronsky takes place at a railroad station, by the doors of a traincar. Then a peasant falls under the train, and this has an unusually strong effect on Anna. Next, Vronsky follows Anna to Petersburg. The scene: a blizzard, constant opening and slamming doors of the traincar, Anna and Vronsky on the platform of some unnamed station, snow. The declaration – all next to the train. “Who – or what – is the hero of the novel?” I asked myself. And I answered: “the train.” Tolstoy was absolutely spellbound by the train. He describes in detail how the first wheels of the car passed by, and Anna still chose a moment to fall under the middle of the car as it pulled alongside her. Then I discussed how writers and poets, when they describe the death of their heroes, often have a premonition of their own end. Pushkin foresaw his own death in Lensky’s. Lermontov noted his for the first time in his description of Pechorin’s duel with Grushnitsky, which almost exactly described his own future duel with Martynov and his death at the foot of Mashuk Mountain on July 15, 1841. Although this may seem farfetched, Blok “guessed” his death in the death of Kat’ka in “The Twelve.” Kat’ka is a casualty of revolutionary terror. Blok was also a casualty. His death on August 7, 1921, three months before he turned 41, can’t be considerd natural. Taking all of this into consideration, I returned to Tolstoy and said that, having thrown Anna under the train, thus connecting her death with the railroad, he also predicted many important circumstances of his own death. Of course, Tolstoy did not commit suicide. But late in the fall, in October, at the age of 82, he left home for good. Several days later, on


November 7, 1910, he died away from home, in a little railroad station, Astapovo. At the end, Tolstoy felt life to be a burden, just as Anna did. She went to Obiralovka Station to commit suicide. Tolstoy went to Astapovo Station. He ran away from his family almost as in Pushkin’s words: “So many years, a tired slave, I planned my flight, Someplace where I will work to my delight.” I don’t know if this phrase haunted Tolstoy. He was drawn to the train, planning to go to Optina Pustyn, where his sister Mashenka lived. He made it there, and spent two days, but again was drawn to the train. Unlike Anna, he did not throw himself under the train. He rode on it, but fell ill, and was taken from the train. He died at the obscure wayside station Astapovo. And this strange demise, not corresponding with anything earlier in his life, strongly resembles suicide: suicide with the help of a train. Did he think of Anna? This is what I wrote about in my essay. I also noted, comparing Tolstoy’s novel with Flaubert’s, that the difference between French and Russian women is that the Frenchwoman poisons herself, while the Russian throws herself under the train. Emma Bovary took poison, and Anna Karenina died under the train. Is this difference reflected in their feelings, in their despair, hatred, and love? My relations with women were in many ways defined by Anna’s image. After many years, in the twilight of middle age, my poem “On the death of Anna Karenina” depicted Anna’s third appearance in my life. The first was in school, the second when I was 30 (when I wrote the essay), and the third at 47.

Chapter 6

Pushkin and My First Loves In my school years, students were segregated by sex. Any contact with girls’ schools (evenings together, poetry recitations, literary discussions, etc.) was forbidden, and we would send our class monitor Marina Davydovna on reconnaissance: to find the class with the most good-looking girls. Marina Davydovna loved us like family, loved us maybe even more than her own daughter, whom we got to know at their home. Her house was on the corner of Sumskaya and Karazinskaya Streets. Marina Davydovna lived in one room on the second floor of a large communal apartment. And in this very apartment, as it so often happens in life and not so often in books like Doctor Zhivago, one of Marina Davydovna’s neighbors turned out to be my future wife.


Marina Davydovna taught biology, and we called her our “the female of our species.” Setting off for Girls’ School no. 42, she conscientiously fulfilled our instructions. Having determined that Class 8b had the most beautiful and attractive girls, she “collaborated” with their class leader, a sweet, pleasant Russian teacher named Svetlana Antonovna. Then our Komsomol Bureau met with the Komsomol Bureau of the girls’ class, and we planned a party to commemorate the 125th anniversary of Pushkin’s death. We decided to perform excerpts from “The Gypsies” and scenes from Boris Godunov. I was given the role of the old gypsy, Borya Voronovsky was to play Aleko, and Karina, whom we all fell in love with at first sight, was Zemfira. When I speak of the girls, besides Karina I need to mention Alina. She was proud and easily hurt, so knowing that she could not compare to Karina but not wanting to finish second, she decided not to recite her poems at the last minute. Arriving at the party with a compress on her neck, she didn’t come onto the stage, using a sore throat as an excuse, but decided to sit in the audience instead. All of this was done for my benefit, as I found out later. The atmosphere of the party was fantastic. We sat in an auditorium with polished parquet. A rope hung above the platform that served as a stage, and there was a curtain made from sheets. At the end of “The Gypsies,” the curtain got torn, and the audience could see us as we left the stage. Julius Bertsovsky, who wasn’t participating in the performance, was in charge of the lighting. Scribbling a stripe on a photo negative, he lit the stage with the help of a small projector, and as soon as I started to say “Look, under the distant firmament wanders a free moon,” a new moon appeared. I had a stuck-on beard made of lambswool. Sitting on something resembling hemp, I recited the monologues of the old gypsy one after another in a monotone voice. You could say that we probably assigned the roles correctly. I took on the old man’s proud demeanor as I read the following lines: I wakened, and my love was gone. I search, I call, no trace in sight. Alone, Zemfira fell to tears, And I did too, and from this time All girls repelled me through the years. My gaze found none to call my own. I never chose myself a friend. And never did I share again My idle days with anyone. And then the words of Aleko seemed alien to me: “And how did you, on the trail of the ungrateful one and the predator, not pierce the


heart with the treacherous sword.” But Voronovsky, it seemed to me, would have done exactly that. We were very different. They played the scene in the tavern from Boris Godunov realistically, with inspiration. The drunkenness was portrayed wonderfully. Galitsky was especially good in the role of Misail. To this day I can see his head falling drunkenly on the table. After the “Scene at the Fountain,” there was dancing. First and foremost, this meant knowing how to waltz: one-two-three, one-twothree, one-two-three, one-two-three. I wasn’t good at waltzing. But the “innkeeper,” Lera, took me by the hand, made some kind of turn, and suddenly I got it. This was on February 6, 1952. Later, Lera was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia. She was twenty-five at the time. I got a call from her the day my father died, on a Sunday. She knew that I was starting medical school, and was studying hematology. But she didn't know that only a few hours ago my father had died, and she called to say she had 300,000 leukocytes. I understood right away that this meant myeloid leukemia. Thanks to the heroic efforts of her family, she lived five more years. They had a garden in the country, and they always took her to the garden or forest. They said that once she dropped to her knees there, raised her hands to the sky, and cried, “Oh God! Why are you punishing me?” She died in our ward, in great pain. She went blind a few days before her death, and asked that her daughter no longer be brought to her, so that she wouldn’t remember her as a blind woman. I saw all the girls we knew at Lera’s funeral. It was an overcast day late in autumn… Time is a fashionable theme nowadays. And I wrote a collection of poems entitled “A Book of Non-existent Time”: In this, our strange, mysterious world Love and God’s light last forever. It only seems to us that time exists, But it’s a time that isn’t there. I recently read Brodsky’s prose, and the theme of time is present there, too. We all sense and at the same time don’t sense it. There are bursts of time. It is inside and outside of us; it exists, and does not exist. Life is different from a novel. Novels remain, but life leaves all of us. We are all living on borrowed time. When you wring out time, only the events remain. Nothing remains of us. But actually, that’s not true! Our parents and teachers loved us, and we loved them. We loved each other for our purity. And this pure love, this aerial love is always part of us.


Chapter 7 Karina

Four of us were in love with Karina: Voronovsky, who played Aleko, Dima Polsky, Senya Ovcharkin, and I. At least, these are the ones I knew about. After school our quartet took my dog Kama – a very small dog – and went to the corner of Chernyshevsky and Karazinsky Streets to see the object of our worship and adoration. The dog was needed for barking. We figured that Karina, hearing our dog barking from her fourth-floor apartment, would understand that we were waiting for her, and would come down. She did indeed come down, but standing on the porch, would say that she couldn’t join us: she didn’t have time, she had to prepare her lessons, and in general just couldn’t. She stood on the platform and thanks to that, although three of us were taller than her, she looked down on us, and this gave her an advantage. But we still didn’t give up, and vied with each other to impress her. I can still see Voronovsky raising his left hand and reciting poetry. I also recited some. Sometimes the dog just wasn’t in the mood to bark, and then we had a plan B. Our Plan B was Senya Ovcharkin, nicknamed The Dog. Seeing that we wouldn’t get anything out of our four-legged dog, we turned to him: “Senya, Kama doesn’t want to bark.” And Senya obediently began barking. Karina was even, reserved, and behaved the same toward everyone. In the summer she went to Kirillovka, on the Azov Sea, and I went with my brother to Genichesk, about 60 miles from her. You could go from Genichesk to Kirillovka by sailing on a cutter to Fedotov Spit, and from there walking along the Spit. And I got in the cutter and went on a love journey for the first time in my life. Perhaps it was possible to get to Kirillovka by dry land as well, but I thought going by sea was more romantic and interesting. I was not looking for an easy trip. I wanted to go against the wind, like Lenin. There was a family going to the Spit on the cutter, because the beach was better and the water was cleaner there than in Genichevsk. They went on a picnic and were very happy. But I immediately felt bad. It was July or the very beginning of August, the heat was frightful, and the sun beat down mercilessly. When we disembarked on the Spit, I saw that there was sand all around. There were no houses or trees in sight, and nowhere to hide from the burning rays of the sun. As midday approached, it got hotter every minute, and every minute I felt worse. It was obvious that the sea sickness I had just experienced was responsible for this, but either way, I


lost the capacity for any action. My head felt empty of everything but one wish: to hide somewhere from the sun and survive. My traveling companions laid out all kinds of food, wine, vodka, fruit, and they ate and drank. I lay by the boat, tormented by thirst and cursing everything on earth. In the evening, not having accomplished a thing, I returned to my brother in Genichevsk.

Chapter 8

Time and Us 1952 was a year of three dead gods – Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, and Lenin – and one living god: Stalin. The year ended with the 19th party congress. Stalin spoke at the last session, and this one wasn’t shown on television (which was only beginning to enter our lives) or newsreel. I don’t know whether it was taped. Stalin’s last words in this speech were “Down with warmongers!” The living god was not separate from the dead ones. We considered him their continuation. We understood that we lived in an especially closed world, and that we were the minority. Although there was a whole socialist camp besides the Soviet Union, we understood that we were a minority in the world, in which people lived by a different calendar. Our country was 35 years old, and the world was in the year 1952. The sense of novelty around us affected our entire lives. We were unprecedented, we were creators of a new life, we were pioneers, and this was the gospel truth. Around us was the capitalist world, passing through different phases. It began at the level of slavery, a past from which it had never separated. And it wasn’t important who was better or worse; the main thing was that they lived in the old world, and we lived in the new world. This meant that we had a right to our hardships and mistakes. The younger generation, children and adolescents, liked the sense of novelty. The Soviet Union had won a frightful, unbelievably harsh war, and there had been no such war anywhere else on earth. In 1985 I traveled through Germany by car from west to east, up to Austria. And the whole time I was driving along the Ruhr, seeing the electric power lines, railroads, factories, houses, carefully cultivated fields, the same thought weighed on me. I thought to myself, “My god, it’s the miracle of the twentieth century that the Soviet Union defeated Germany.” After the disgrace of the first world war, the incomptence of the Russian head command, the enormous number of total casualties, Rasputin, the tsar, the court, three quarters of which were Germans, Russia won the worst, bloodiest war, losing 27 million people! And when victory came, the surviving Russian, Ukrainian or Georgian was happy that they accomplished this miracle of the twentieth century. And they felt strong


and did not bow before the West. They won the war against the West, by association with Germany. This atmosphere of general enthusiasm and pride in ourselves made it easy to believe that the Russians had invented and pioneered everything. And so of course, the first in flight was Mozhaisky, and only later did the Wright Brothers come. And Polzunov invented the steam engine, and Watt’s achievements did not compare to his in any way. January 1953 came. On the day when the Doctor’s Plot was reported, I was walking along Sumskaya Street, the central street of the city, and three guys from another school called to me. I went up to them, and one of them slapped me in the face. It would have been silly to fight the three of them. Having received a slap on the left cheek, though, I did not offer the right one, but simply turned away and kept walking. They didn’t follow me. There were meetings at school. Mira Efimovna, a math teacher, all but tore her blouse to shreds stigmatizing the doctor murderers. Kogan-Yasnyi and Kogan were among the Kharkov doctors. They were sent to Kiev and interrogated. Much later, Kogan told me that after many years he met the investigator who had broken his fingers. I found out about Stalin’s death when my brother woke me up with the cry, “Stalin is dead!” I didn’t cry, but I had a sensation that the world had ended. March, the beginning of Spring, thawing snow. They placed a portrait of Stalin with black mourning crepe in the auditorium at school. We took turns standing there keeping a respectful watch, one to the right of the portrait and one to the left, like the guards at Lenin’s mausoleum. At a certain point there was chaos when they discovered that no one was standing by Stalin’s portrait. The director of the school, Mikhail Semyonovich Teplov, reprimanded us. There were meetings on Dzerzhinsky Square. Everyone wanted meetings and speeches, and some of the more active students exploded onto the square. For all this natural desire to be among people that day, and to participate in some way, it was accompanied by the equally natural desire to take advantage of the situation and “play hooky.” It was practically impossible for us to separate these two feelings. The crowd of kids filled the vestibule and pressed against the entrances. The doorman Nikitich, a robust fellow, would not let them in. “You can’t come in! You can’t come in! Mikhail Semyonovich forbids it!” But the kids didn’t listen, feeling the injustice of the ban. “We want to come in, and they won’t let us. This is not freedom!” I wasn’t in this zealous crowd. I stood on the second floor and looked down the stairway at the crowd, screaming with all their might, “Let us in! Let us into the meeting!” “But Stalin didn’t give orders to let people into the meeting or not,” it suddenly hit me. “Stalin didn’t give instructions on how to act in the event of his death.” And I wanted to shout this to the crowd of kids downstairs.


And here’s something else about freedom, democracy, and our way of life. Russian language and literature were taught to us by a certain Nina Ivanovna, a somewhat hysterical woman and not a very good teacher. We were a strong class, and it seemed to me that Nina Ivanovna was not right for our level. Besides, I didn’t want to learn Russian, my favorite subject, in her warped style. All of this spoiled my mood, but later the situation resolved itself. Nina Ivanovna fell ill for a long time, and was replaced by a different teacher. This lasted several months, and it started to seem like the substitute teacher would stay with us. But then we found out that Nina Ivanovna had recovered, and would be returning. The idea of falling under her control again began to horrify me. I tried to talk with my homeroom teacher and my parents, but did not get any support. Then I started to incite my classmates into an open demonstration. My plan was for all of us to silently, quietly get up and leave the classroom as one to announce our protest as soon as Nina Ivanovna sat in the teacher’s seat. I explained this plan to my classmates, and they seemed to accept it. After all, almost everyone disliked this teacher. The day of reckoning came. Nina Ivanovna came in, fussy and nervous as always, sat down, and started taking out her books. According to the plan, I was supposed to leave the classroom first. As soon as she laid the books out in front of her, I slowly got up from my desk, the next to last in the far row, near the window, and slowly, trying to walk calmly, went down the aisle. Coming up to the teacher’s chair, I walked around it and, behind Nina Ivanovna’s back, went to the door. Most likely, Nina Ivanovna turned around and looked at me as I passed behind her. I didn’t see this, but I felt it. I didn’t feel fear, but a sharp, cold sense of emptiness. This was caused by a deadly silence in the class, a quiet that shouldn’t have been there. After all, if everyone had gotten up one by one behind me, there would have been a light sound of the opening flaps of the desk and then steps. But this did not happen at all. Instead, I could feel trickery and betrayal behind me, and the collapse of what we all had agreed on together. Already realizing that I had been forsaken, I stepped into the hallway. But in a few seconds, Voronovsky – I have to give him credit – stepped out after me. No one else did. When the bell rang and everyone went out for the break between classes, I tried to behave as though nothing had happened, and not argue with anyone. I didn’t want to discuss what had happened. Nevertheless, I asked my close friend and seatmate Dima Polsky, “What happened? Didn’t we agree on this? And you, my friend, betrayed me!” Dima, looking me in the eye, responded, “You know, I wanted to get up, but I couldn’t. You understand, I felt as if my ass were glued to the seat. Just glued there, and I couldn’t get up. Do you understand?” That’s how this episode concluded. I wasn’t punished. Nothing came of it.


When I answered questions in class, I usually relied on my visual memory, which gave me a “mirror” for remembering what had been written without even thinking about its meaning. Paintings, diagrams, and paragraphs divided by special typeface served as additional help for my memory. In my physics textbook, the laws were always separated by bold print and were instantly etched into my memory. But one day, when our teacher Efim Grigorevich called me to the board, and I recalled what was assigned at home and got to the text with the law, I suddenly realized that I couldn’t “see” one of the middle lines. Trying to save myself, I rapidly muttered some nonsense in place of the “missing” line and quickly began to recite the rest of the text with the passionate hope that Efim Grigorevich wouldn’t notice what had happened. And he wouldn’t have, if the class hadn’t howled with laughter. Everyone was very glad that I was finally caught. Our literature teacher, Elizaveta Sergeevna, who had replaced Nina Ivanovna, tried to introduce something new into our lessons. She suggested that we check each other’s compositions on our own, write down the strengths and weaknesses of the work, and enter the grade according to our judgment. I treated this assignment like a game, with the winner being the one whose opinion corresponded with the teacher’s. I generally knew Elizaveta Sergeevna’s criteria well, and when I was given B-student Korchik’s composition to check, I analyed it exactly the way she would have, and entered the “B” grade she almost certainly would have given him. Unlike me, Julius Bertsovsky took this task very seriously. Receiving A-student Golembovsky’s composition, he judged it completely weak and uninteresting, utterly demolished it, and gave it a “C.” Elizaveta Sergeevna did not forgive him this high-handedness. And from that time, Bertsovsky did not receive an A on any of his compositions, and therefore finished school without a medal, even though he deserved one more than any of us. The best papers were usually read aloud by their authors in front of the class. Once we were given the theme “Why do we love and value Chekhov?” I based my paper on “Sleepy” and “Vanka Zhukov,” using them effectively and sentimentally. What I had thought up succeeded marvelously, and I was told to read my creation out loud. To earn even greater praise, I began to read it with expression and inspired tears in the eyes of some of my classmates, and almost burst into tears myself. For Chekhov’s heroes, there was a clear border between cold calculation and sincere compassion. I knew very well that I wanted to receive a gold medal, and would aim for this goal with every fiber of my being. This was partly because in the back of my mind, I knew that it would be difficult for me, as a Jew, to gain entrance to an institute. But I was even more driven by the desire not to fall behind my brother, who had graduated a year


earlier as a gold medalist. You could say that I had a competitive desire as well: to finish among the very best. In the quest for this victory, I went to great lengths and acted shrewdly. Knowing that I had a difficult math test, I contrived to skip the lesson and then bring a problem my brother had solved from home. Knowing that each teacher had a weakness, I didn’t scruple to take advantage of them. The math teacher, for example, loved all kinds of cubes made from paper. She often put an “A” down for anyone who brought one of these products from home. I was too lazy to fool around with this nonsense, but I didn’t hesitate to take advantage of some of the girls. I would then bring the cube they manufactured to class and put on a whole performance. When Lyudmila Petrovna asked who had brought something interesting today, I modestly lowered my eyes, but contrived somehow to convey with a look from under my eyebrows that I had not come empty-handed. This of course piqued her curiosity, and when I sensed that she was sufficiently prepared to give me an “A” immediately, I gave her the geometrical figure glued together from paper, and “removed” the “B” I had received in the previous lesson. It’s hard to call what I did in school serious. The essence of life and basic knowledge lay outside of school: reading that bore no relation to the school program. In school I surmounted barriers and succeeded in whatever I needed to do, but only for fun. This did not happen without help from my brother, who was a class ahead of me and was very good at math, physics, and chemistry. My knowledge, despite my confident progress toward the coveted gold medal, was uneven and superficial. For this reason, an incident that took place during my final exams was difficult to call coincidental. In my final exam in physics, I pulled out the last, thirty-first ticket. Atomic physics, nucleus, electrons, rotation. I hadn’t studied up to this point, and I only had the haziest understanding of it. I needed to act decisively and cleverly. Taking the ticket, I sat preparing at the desk for a long time, not lifting my head, while everyone passed through, until I sat alone, face to face with Efim. Then I started to answer the questions. As I got confused, I understood very well that even if I wasn’t exactly earning a “C,” I definitely wasn’t getting an “A,” either. I left, stunned by the realization that this last exam would irrevocably spoil my diploma. Our “fan,” Marina Davydovna, stood right there, by the door. She guessed everything from the expression on my face. She turned around and quickly went into the director’s office. After some time, I saw the director, Mikhail Semyonovich Teplov, rushing up nineteen steps, out of breath, and walk past us with Marina Davydovna. None of us knew what was going on. We were told that the director had come to read us the results of our final exams right away, and to congratulate us on graduating, without waiting for any ceremony. I received my “A” and the golden medal. But to this day, I remember Efim’s face at the moment when my name and grade were read aloud.


Chapter 9 Alina

Alina, Karina’s seatmate, achieved her goal and “stole” me. One evening at her girlfriend Liza’s apartment, the kids put little gold rings on our fingers as a joke, but it wasn’t entirely a joke. And from this moment, something personal and very meaningful arose between us. It was a winter evening in December, 1952. Four of us were walking along clean, narrow, calm Chernyshevsky Street. The streetlights were shining, and the snow was softly falling. I tried to take Alina by the arm. She had on a black winter coat with a fur collar, and I had on my overcoat. I was walking to her left, and slowly, carefully stuck my hand between her left arm and her coat. I waited with horror, fearing that she would push me away. But she did not. We walked arm in arm. And the snowflakes continued to fall… After that evening I began to visit Alina frequently. She lived in a three-room apartment with her mother, a pediatrician. Their relations were very complicated and difficult. The mother, a demanding woman, interfered in every detail of her daughter’s life, constantly forbidding her to do things. The diary Alina gave me to read began with the words “I hate people,” and was almost entirely devoted to analyzing her conflicts with her mother. The entries struck me both by their contents and their harsh tone. I grew up in entirely different circumstances. I was allowed to do whatever I wanted. I loved my mother very much, and couldn’t imagine any other feelings toward her. The history of Alina’s family was unusual, dramatic, and grotesque, and shaped by the peculiarities of the Soviet system. Before we met, Alina’s last name had already been changed three times. Her mother’s first husband, with whom she had a son, was arrested in 1936. Shortly after that, she slept with a certain Finkelstein, and gave birth to Alina, who was given her father’s last name. But soon Finkelstein was arrested and the first husband released. He returned to his family, began to raise Alina, and gave her his last name. This situation only lasted for a short time, since Alina’s foster father was arrested for a second time, and her mother thought it best to give her daughter her maiden name, Kornblit. Alina’s aggressive pugnacity (“I hate people”) surprised me very much. I thought the norm was to love people, and it seemed to me that I saw this norm in the behavior of everyone around me. Her unusual biography inspired my pity and sympathy, the desire to help her, to defend her. The combination of these feelings defined my “psychology of love”: the need to support weak women, but first and foremost, to understand them.


I spent so much time with Alina that my friends started to resent it. And this resentment was completely justified. Alina literally hid me from my friends. Tolik Moroz, one of my closest friends, came over to ask her whether I was there or not, and although my coat was hanging right nearby and my boots underneath, Alina, undaunted, told him I wasn’t there. Tolik left, justifiably angry at both her and me. I apologized, but everything stayed the same. My first romance swallowed me whole. I remember many episodes vividly, even the smallest sensations. I remember the date when one incident or another took place that assumed great importance for me, intoxicated by the atmosphere of adolescent love. For example, I remember August 18, 1953. That summer I didn’t go to the Caucasus, or Crimea, or the Azov Sea, but spent the long vacation with Alina. What did we do? First of all, we read. And so on the 18th, late in the day, we sat in the “living room” on a leather couch with a wooden back, decorated above with a mirror and surrounded by two drawers. Alina sat in her robe, folding her legs under her and holding Sholokhov’s Quiet Don on her knees. And I perched nearby, half-lying next to her and, staying in that position, putting my head on her opened book. Lying there looking up, I could see her lowering her head slowly, inch by inch, to my face, to my lips, and then I, tearing my head away from the book, stretched to meet her. This is how my first kiss happened. By this time we had already been together for eight or nine months. We held hands and walked together, but although it may seem unbelievable, we had never once kissed. After that first kiss, though, we were immediately emboldened. Our embraces became more and more ardent. At a certain point, Alina threw off her robe, and for the first time in my life I saw a woman’s breasts, the breasts of a sixteen-year-old girl. Our frenzied caresses were interrupted suddenly and abruptly. Through the noise in my ears, I heard the doorbell and then Alina’s voice saying, “That’s my mom.” Alina’s mother was coming back from work on time, but we had completely lost track of the time. Completely flustered, I tried to put the couch in order, returning the pillows to their place and straightening everything out. But I understood with horror that even if I could tidy everything up in time, we still couldn’t open the door: our flushed faces would instantly give us away. Not knowing how to rescue myself, I was mechanically continuing to tidy the couch when Alina took my hand and led me to the bedroom. “She’ll probably hide me under the bed,” the hope fluttered through my mind. But no: she took me further. To the closet? We passed the closet, too, and continued on to the balcony. What a mess! To kiss a girl for the first time and then immediately pay for it by jumping from the second floor?! My fear was mixed with annoyance. Alina lived in an old house and the second floor was very high up. You could break your leg jumping from it. But what


could I do? I mentally braced myself for the leap. But it turned out that Alina had a completely different plan. Stretching a hand to me, she sat me down on a little couch on their spacious balcony. She explained that her mother, not waiting for the door to be answered but knowing we were home, would probably go downstairs and yell up to us. And that’s exactly what happened. “Alina!” rang out from below the balcony. “What, mom?” my girlfriend answered innocently, bending over the bannister. “I’ve been ringing the bell for ten minutes. Why aren’t you opening the door?” “We’ve been sitting here on the balcony, and we didn’t hear anything.” Still in the room, hurriedly buttoning up her robe, Alina whispered hotly, “I won’t give up my happiness to anyone.” The thought that Alina might have already had some kind of sexual experience, and that this had prompted her to do what was necessary, didn’t even occur to me. I correctly sensed a special female courage and decisiveness, inaccessible to the “strong” sex. I understood then for the first time that in love, women are superior to men, bolder and more resourceful in the struggle for it. A few days after this date, August 18, that I remember so well, we went to a photo studio. And although four of us were photographed together – I sat in front with my friend Dima, and Alina and Liza stood behind us – for the two of us, this picture held a special, secret meaning. It was as though we were celebrating our victory and consolidating our secret union. Chapter 10 On the Threshold of a New Life When I graduated, I decided to go to Leningrad and enroll at the Military Medical Academy. Simply studying at the Kharkov Medical Institute didn’t seem prestigious enough. So I proceeded to storm the bastion, but soon became convinced of the insanity of this undertaking. First, they suggested that I, a gold medalist, take all the exams, which I could not agree to do. Second, barely having crossed the threshold of academia, I already understood that attending a military institute and wearing a uniform was out of the question for me, as I was easily distracted and, to put it mildly, not a great lover of discipline. Nevertheless, this absurd start had its own importance, in that I went to Leningrad and saw this city and walked and ran around it myself, alone for the first time in my life.


Getting out at Moscow Station, I got on a trolley, which took me along Nevsky Prospekt. At the corner of the Moika River I got off, walked straight ahead, and turned down the street leading under the arc of the General Staff Building. Passing it, I found myself on Palace Square, where I froze with astonishment! Of course I had seen the Winter Palace many times in pictures and at the movies. But it was different in reality: there were not one but two palaces on the square. For the sake of accuracy, I asked a passing policeman which of them was the Winter Palace, and he explained to me, accompanying his words with gestures, “This is the General Staff Building, and this is the Winter Palace.” This is the exact sequence of information I was given – I am passing it along verbatim. After staying in Leningrad for a week, I returned by train to Kharkov and went straight to Alina’s that very day. We still hadn’t developed the habit of calling, and my appearance was a complete surprise for her. Shining from happiness, I told Alina that everything was fine, that I had not entered the Leningrad Academy, that I would study in Kharkov and we would be together. I thought that she would be glad, but she listened to me with restraint, and there was an unfamiliar shadow in her eyes. I could not decipher it, and couldn't bring myself to ask her about it. We didn’t talk about her reaction later, either. But in that moment I was simply discouraged. Seeing no sign of happiness on her face, I understood that a little crack had appeared in our relations. Later, they gradually began to fall apart… I finished tenth grade in 1954… Then there was the transfer of power, with Malenkov becoming the premier, and the first signs that Stalin would not occupy the same place as Lenin in the Soviet pantheon. The first bombshell revelation was that there was very little grain in the country, less than was produced in 1913, that is, before World War I. This was the trump card Khrushchev played against Malenkov, who had announced in his report to the 19th party congress that the grain problem had been completely resolved. Everything began from this point, though on the ideological plane the first blow had been struck a month and a half after Stalin’s death, when the rehabilitation of the “doctor-saboteurs” was announced. In general, my graduation coincided with the beginning of an enormous transformation in the life of the nation. The changes were visible. Bulganin, Malenkov, and Khrushchev went to the beaches in Crimea and talked with ordinary vacationers. Earlier this was not only impossible, but unimaginable. It was unthinkable to imagine someone coming up to Stalin, a living god, on the beach. Now, times had changed.


PART TWO Chapter 11

Family Secrets Sasha was a deep-rooted man, and not only because he lived his whole life and walked the streets in the city where he was born. The main thing was that for him, the past and present had long ago ellided into a single unity and inseparable entity, which once upon a time had been Russia. He reacted to the changes around him, which brought him nothing but unpleasantness and deprivations, with enviable equilibrium. He countered the everyday chaos and half-starved existence that befell him and millions of other people with a Rakhmetov-like unpretentiousness, reinforced by the strictest vegetarian diet, jogging, regular exercise and, most important of all, a firmness of character that the ancient Greek stoics and Indian yogis would have envied. And for all that, he was neither reactionary, nor grumpy, nor a primitive, thoughtless critic of power. Walking with friends in the park, Sasha set forth an analysis of the economic situation and current political situation, based on historical precedents, as well as the possible solutions to permanent crisis. And his interlocutors listened to this improvisation with pleasure, capitvated by his profound mind and truly unlimited erudition. He spoke quietly, gently and without emphasis, completely graciously. But every year, there were fewer and fewer friends, either because of the obvious biological laws or people’s ineluctable desire to move to new places. And it wasn’t illness that Sasha feared most of all, but impending loneliness. Yet all the same, he was happy in the sense that all of us who live on earth are. Sasha endured and overcame everything, creating an enclosed space, something like a cocoon, around himself, which was closed to outsiders, and even his closest friends. He climbed into it every evening, hiding his head under the covers and immersing himself in memories, resurrecting pictures of the distant past… He would close his eyes and forget about everything in the world, and like a magician, with a turn of an invisible key, he would open the magic box of his memory, and from this box, out would come his mother and father, young, beautiful and cheerful, and his dark-haired brother, with whom – as a child, under the scorching Central Asian sun –


he had tended a sheep, pulling a pitiful plant from the dry, hot Termez sands… Other times, different visions would warm his frozen soul, and with these visions, he would fall into a happy oblivion, which was neither dream nor reality. On Tuesday, as always, his younger brother Musya called him from Chicago: “What if I stop at our parents’ homeland, in Vinnitsa Oblast on the way to see you? I’ve never been there.” “I think it’s a good idea. I can’t make such trips anymore – you can see it all for the two of us. By the way, are you planning to visit alone, or with your whole family?” “With my family.” “Great! So, what would you like me to tell you, or would it be better to write a letter?” “I like to listen to you.” “But you’ll go broke!” “Phone calls are cheap in America.” “All right. Then ask me whatever you’re interested in. And in general, the more you ask, the easier it will be for me to remember.” “Let’s start with mom,” Musya said. “She was born in Murovani Kurylovtsi, right? What do you know about this place? And why did it have such a funny name – were there many chickens there or something?” “There certainly were many chickens, but that has nothing to do with the name. Murovani Kurilovtsy is a little settlement, now a region in Vinnitsia Oblast. ‘Mur’ in Ukrainian is something like a brick wall or fortress.” “Is that where the expression ‘to wall up’ came from?” “Well, yes.” “And is the fortress still there?” “I don’t know if it’s there now – probably not. But once in this area, in Podole, a border ran between Poland and the Ottoman Empire before this territory was controlled by Russia. As with any border area, there were fortresses and gates. I think the Kurilovtsy were named after some Polish nobleman, a Pan Kurilovsky, who had an estate there. Then you add the “tsy” suffix to the name – you can see on a map how many towns had that kind of ending. Mama was born in this town, into a family ruled by her grandma. Her grandma had eleven children, and her husband didn’t work – just sat by the window with a Talmud in his hands, reading it solemnly, a super Jew, a holy man.” “But he wasn’t a rabbi?” “No, he wasn’t. He was highly educated by village standards, a ‘tzadik.’ He sired eleven children, and his wife bustled about, frightfully busy. They had a kind of inn, and that’s how they made ends meet.” “And what did our great-grandfather do, besides sire children?”


“He advised people. Mama told me, for instance, how one woman came to him from Belorussia. She told him that she had been married for many years, but they had no children. Then our greatgrandfather, after questioning her about everything in detail, advised her to feed her husband better. She left and did everything Herschel told her to do.” “And what happened?” “She started to have children, one after another.” “Were there many?” “I don’t remember exactly – probably about five. When Herschel died, all the children left, and grandma Sarah stayed with her youngest daughter, our grandma, our mother’s mother. I know this female lineage very well. As for the male line, I know the following: Leah, our mama’s mother, got married very young, to a Jewish boy she didn’t love from the beginning, and never did.” “And whose son was this bokher?” “I don’t know. All I know is that there was a such a man. He is not mentioned in writing anywhere, and I don’t remember mama ever using the word ‘father.’ Her last name, Zweibel, didn’t come from him. That’s very significant, too. In ancient Jewish tradition, if a child is born in a lawful marriage, then regardless of what happens with the parents later, the child must bear the father’s last name. How radical it would have been to change the family name! The fact that our mama had her mother’s last name, and she got her patronymic from her mother’s brother, begs the question, whose daughter was she? Does this make sense?” “Not exactly. Did she have a husband, or was there none, as with Gorky’s son?” “Yes, she did. He lived with them. But later he left, because she didn’t love him. Our mama told me straight out that her mother, Leah, lived with the manager of a large estate.” “When?” “When mama was very little.” “And did this manager turn up after she was born?” “I don’t know.” “What was he – Jewish? Polish? Russian?” “Probably Polish. Mama never told me his name, but I know some facts about this man’s life.” “Such as?” “He was a retired officer. That’s one. Second, when World War I began, he was in France for treatment. He joined the French army and served until 1918, when the war ended. During the war they had no direct contact with him.” “So basically, he was mama’s stepfather?” “Probably. He was either her father or her step-father. I know all of this from mama’s stories. She told me this in papa’s presence, and there were no inconsistencies in her stories. Everything was consistent,


and papa was there. Since papa married her very young, he probably would have known if she had made a mistake, and would have corrected her.” “So the war ended. What happened next?” “Here’s what happened: Poland split off from Russia. The Civil War began, and sometime in winter of 1919, this man took a train back to them from France through Germany, with whom the Armistice had been agreed upon, and Poland. Not far from Murovanye Kurilovtsy, at Kamenets-Podolsk, he was taken from the train, since he had typhus, and quarantined. Somebody came from Kamenets-Podolsk and told Leah officially, according to his instructions. Leah left mama, who was six, with our grandmother, and went to Kamenets-Podolsk. He died in quarantine, and she also got infected and died. So mama literally became an orphan in the course of a month.” “And where is Leah buried?” “I don’t know. Typhus victims were probably buried like Mozart, in a common grave sprinkled with chlorine.” “What happened to her and grandma next?” “Life was terribly hard… They had almost nothing to live on, and they had to take all kinds of trifles – thread, needles, buttons – and trade them for food. Actually, this was a hidden kind of poverty. People felt sorry for the little, skinny, six-or-seven-year-old girl with a very old grandmother. When the Civil War ended, grandma Sarah died, and mama was put in an orphanage. She stayed there until she was 14, graduated a seven-year school, was a pioneer, then joined a Komsomol. She was sent to the Medical Institute in Vinnitsa, and worked as a medical assistant in Mogilev-Podolsk after graduating. “So there was a Kamenets-Podolsk and also a MogilevPodolsk?” “Yes, they were different towns. And she worked for a famous doctor named Blaivus.” “Was he an obstetrician-gynecologist?” “No, he was a general practitioner. He treated everything and everyone, adults and children. Mama was made his assistant. She was a smart girl, and had entrée into his house. He was like a father to her.” “Yes, she often talked about him.” “I know that Blaivus was middle-aged, and his wife was young and very pretty. I think now everyone who knew him is dead. If you could only find someone… And to find mama’s house in MurovanyeKurilovtsy, here’s what you look for: before the war, there was a district executive committee in it, and after the war, it became an orphanage. And papa served in the Mogilev-Podolsk artillery in the war part. And mama was a medical assistant in the military section. That’s how they met. They married on May 2, 1932 in Mogilev-Podolsk. In May 1932, they married, and in the fall of that year, mama was assigned to the Kharkov Stomatology Institute, because her two-


year term of mandatory practice after the technical institute was over. And since she was an active Komsomol member, the social committee of the Komsomol gave her this assignment, and Kharkov was the capital of Ukraine. She arranged to go there together with papa, and they arrived in the fall. Mama was very clever. When they arrived in Kharkov, she went as a Komsomol member to register her pass, and there at the Central Committee of the Ukrainian Komsomol, she arranged to exchange it. She wanted that because she was not a stomatology assistant, but a regular assistant. And she asked them to assign her to the Medical Institute, and they did so.” “But what did they live on? How did they go there? Did father start working then?” “It was a very difficult time. The famine had started. But after the cooperative technical institute, papa got a very nice position at Ukrainebank, though for a very small salary.” “But it did pay a salary…” “His salary was paid in a very strange way. He was given a ration: a pound of bread and a quart of milk a day. Everything was in rations then, in 1933. Mama had some kind of student ration, very meager. Then, you can only imagine what they did with the milk. With it they were able to rent an apartment from an old woman on Melnikov Street, where there was a district pharmacy management. But not for all the milk. They gave her half the milk, and she and papa divided their bread rations evenly in half, and washed it down with milk. This was their daily ration – everything that they ate in the course of a day! They also got lucky. In 1933, papa was sent by Ukrainebank by the authority of the harvest campaign to a Soviet farm. When he went on this campaign, he was given two sacks of flour. He went by train to Balashovsky Station and dragged the two sacks from the train, but then there was a problem. He was a strong man who had worked at his grandfather’s mill, so he could easily carry the sacks. The problem was that the train arrived late in the evening, and he needed to get the sacks home by himself. He did it this way: he carried one sack about 30 feet, put it down and returned for the second sack, and took this one about 60 feet. He couldn’t carry it any farther, because he needed to keep both sacks in sight so no one could take them. Rushing back and forth in this way, he spent the whole night moving from Balashovsky Station to Melnikov Street. He and mama lived for nearly a year on this flour; it lasted the whole winter. “This was in 1933?” “Yes. And here’s what else happened. Papa studied at the People’s Farming Institute, in the evening division. And when Ukrainebank moved to Kiev, he transferred to the Kharkov District Finance Department, and was given a voucher to a sanatorium in Odessa. And so, instead of giving a session, he was on his way to a resort. “With mama?” “No, alone. The voucher was only given to him. And he and mama were quarreling, and for good reason. When papa returned, he


was not given a session, and he was expelled from the institute. But they made up: he was so suntanned, fresh, relaxed… Nine months later, I was born. Papa came to the birth with a bouquet, as was proper. He picked me up, took mama by the arm, and brought us home. By this time he had received a separate two-room apartment.” “Is that the apartment we lived in?” “Yes, that’s exactly the one, near the butcher. So, he took us home from the maternity ward, and told us that he had gotten everything ready for us, but he urgently had to leave.” ‘Where?’ asked mama? ‘You know what, Genechka? The Turkish soccer team has come to Kharkov! The District Finance Department got me a ticket, so I have to go,’ said papa. Then he kissed me and mama and left. He was really kind of thoughtless.” “Just like me,” Musya laughed. “Yes, you are more like papa, and I'm more like mama, though physically it’s the other way around.”

Chapter 12

The Telegram “Before the war, papa advanced quickly in his career. First he worked as an inspector; then he became the assistant manager of the District Finance Department, and before the war was already deputy manager. For a man who was 26 in 1941, it was a great career.” “Tell me about the time papa tried to buy a leather coat.” “Papa loved to dress well, and he had a great physique. Remember how well the military uniform fit him? It was as if he’d been born in it. Yes, so he saved up the necessary sum…” “How much?” “About three paychecks, probably. He went to the department store, and the coats were sold on the fourth floor. The salesclerk said that they did not have black leather coats, but there was a brown one. However, papa didn’t want it. Then a man walked up to him, called him to the side, and said, “‘You want a black leather coat? I have exactly that kind for you’.” He motioned for papa to go downstairs and wait for him under the stairway on the first floor, and he would bring him the coat to try on. Papa went downstairs and waited. In a short time, two men came out with a leather coat. Papa tried it on. It turned out to be the right size. Papa counted out his money and gave it to one of the men, who gave the coat to the other man and told him: “Go upstairs, wrap the coat nicely in paper, and tie the package up. We’ll wait for you here.” The man left, and papa waited, but he didn’t come back. Then the man who was standing


there waiting with papa wondered where he disappeared to, why he was taking so long. I’ll yell for him, he said, and began to go upstairs to check where his friend had gone. Papa followed him and saw a door to the street. He rushed into the street, but no one was there… Papa grieved for a while, but eventually calmed down. He was an easygoing guy.” “And how did he and mama spend their time? Did they go out anywhere?” “They sometimes went to the opera. They always sat in the gallery there. They took bread with them, divided it into pieces, ate it and listened to the opera or watched the ballet. They didn’t go dancing.” “What about politics?” “They were both absolutely committed to the Soviet regime, but mama was more politically active than papa. She joined the Communist Party at the institute and was a member of the department party bureau. In 1937, she graduated the institute, and was sent to a children’s clinic. In four years, before the war, she was already the chief physician’s deputy. When the chief physician was called to the front, she took his place. When the war began, she was called to the front and was given the title of military doctor of the second rank, which corresponded to major.” “Now here’s a question: were they happy?” “They were very happy. They were at the level that was unaffected by repression: they had only just started their careers, and it was visible people who were the first to be repressed. But mama had a close friend who experienced great misfortune. Her husband was a political worker with small, minor duties. He was a political commissar, and managed a library in the military department. It wasn’t even a library, but more of a red corner. If a prominent person was arrested, it was immediately announced on the radio and in the newspapers, and from that moment, there couldn’t even be a trace of these enemies of the people in the red corner. A special commission made sure that all material connected with them was destroyed and confiscated right then according to instructions. The poor political commissar, for some reason, missed the announcement that evening, and in the morning the committee discovered a portrait of an enemy of the people on the wall of the red corner. He was never heard from again. A second case, one could say, was family-related. Our uncle Grisha also served in the army as the manager of a military ammunition supply regiment. This position in all its parameters was not subject to assessment as enemies of the people, but when the regiment commander was arrested, a story was fabricated that he hoarded weapons for counterrevolutionary activity. And Uncle Grisha was taken away and forced to confirm all of this. He refused to sign all of these papers, but could not make up an alternative account.” “Because he was obtuse.”


“No, not obtuse, just not very politically aware. He didn’t read newspapers or listen to the radio. He was a wonderful marksman, just splendid. He always took first place in shooting contests everywhere. He also taught shooting. But nothing besides pistol shooting interested him at all. So it was very hard for him to create another convincing account.” “From his inborn obtuseness…” “Think what you like. But he had enough brains not to sign all those reports put in front of him, and this saved him. They beat him hard, all over his head, and he became deaf as a result – completely deaf in one ear and partially in the other. Later he told everyone that it was from being shot, though it was really from the beating. He withstood everything, the good fellow, and didn’t sign anything. When there was a small rollback of the Purge from late 1938 to early 1939, he was one of the first to be set free. But in the process, he was discharged from the military and expelled from the party. He came to Kharkov, moved in with us along with Rosa and his two children, and got a position as a military specialist at the Dzerzhinsky Osoviakhim. His shooting ability, of course, helped him there, too.” “What was the ‘Osoviakhim’?” “The Society for the Cooperation of Defense, Aviation, and Chemical Construction. Then it was changed to ‘DOSAAF.’” “And what did that stand for?” “The Volunteer Society for Cooperation with the Army, Aviation, and Fleet.” “And what does chemical construction mean?” “The thing is, before the war everyone was afraid of chemical threats, attacks that could ruin your vision, and everyone wore gas masks. And you needed to learn how to use them. Papa studied in the school of Red Army sergeant majors on Kholodnaya Gora. Before the war, he was called to the camp every year for a month or two. At that time, there was a system of territorial parts, and the parts were formed according to one’s place of residence. At the time of the camp selections, Kharkovites underwent training. In this manner, papa made friends with the guys at Kharkov, with whom he began the war as a battery commander. I’ll tell you two more stories. When I was less than a year old, papa put me on the window sill in the bedroom, so I could see onto the street.” “Was the window closed?” “Well, yes, the window was closed. I was looking out at the tram, which turned at that point. And papa went to do something in the other room. But it ended with me falling from the window sill and breaking my neck. He could not put my neck back in place; it was dislocated. But an emergency clinic was right across from us. He brought me there, and they put my neck back in place. Here’s the second story.


When mama graduated from the institute, they decided to send papa and me to Aunt Bella in Mogilev-Podolsky for ten days, so that mama could take the government exam in peace and quiet. The Dniester River was there, and beaches, fruit trees – in short, it was beautiful. I was two years old. Mama was six months pregnant with you. Bella had her own garden, which was surrounded by a fence. Papa thought he could let me into this garden to walk around on my own, while he ran down to the Dniester to go swimming. But a frightening thing happened one day. I, a two-year-old, was walking around the garden when I fell into a cesspool and started to drown. Nobody heard my cries, but there was a big dog in the garden. He heard my shrieking and pulled me out of the cesspool. They washed me for a long time after they returned.” “And where were we when the war started?” “You and I were in a kindergarten in a southern village. Papa was already called to the front in April, and mama left the city to be with us. We found out about the beginning of the war from her. The first bombing of the city began sometime in mid-August. They decided that children were better off outside the city, and we didn’t return until the beginning of September. The Germans aimed at factories.” “Did any bombs fall near us?” “We went down to the basement, to the boiler room, during the raids. No bombs fell near us, because there were no factories or defense companies nearby.” “And you really remember all of this?” “Everything. Mama was often on duty at night, in various places.” “Was she called up?” “Yes, at the end of August. She had two railway cross-ties.” “What does that mean?” “It was equivalent to the rank of major, as she was called to the army with the duty of head doctor of the children’s clinic.” “Did the air-raid alarm sound every night?” “Yes, almost every night. But they were short, about one or two hours.” “Was it a siren?” “Yes, and every apartment had a loudspeaker. They would give orders to go down to the bomb shelter, and the windows were sealed crosswise with paper strips, so the glass wouldn’t fly out. We evacuated in the middle of September on a special train with children’s facilites – children’s and infants’ rooms, in which nannies and tutors rode along with their families. Mama was made commander of the echelon.” “Was she in uniform? Do you remember?” “Yes, she was. Her uniform was a skirt, a cap, a soldier’s blouse, and green tabs with two railway cross-ties – she was a military doctor of the second rank.” “And do you remember the episode with the airplane?”


“Yes, I remember it very well. Our train was going along an open steppe, and a German plane flying low approached our train…” “You saw it?” “I saw it very clearly. It had a black cross and a black swastika. Everyone was afraid that it would shoot from its machine gun and bomb us. But all the cars had a red cross, since it was a medical train.” “Do you think the German plane saw the crosses?” “Of course they did. It was a clear, sunny day. And mama also ordered everyone to hold the children up to the open windows (it was warm), so the pilot would see them.” “And what happened?” “The plane went away without bombing or shooting us. Maybe he was a scout, and his duties didn’t include shooting or bombing. Or maybe the German pilot simply spared us… In the fall we arrived at our new home in the city of Eckheim, in the Volga German Autonomous Republic. By that time, the Germans who lived there had all been resettled in Kazakhstan or Siberia. Mama was ordered to set up the evacuation hospital there, and she became its head. We hadn’t been in touch with papa since April 1941. All of mama’s inquiries were met with no response. And then, in about a year, we got a telegram in Eckheim from papa saying that he was in a hospital in Kyzylorda, Kazakhstan. Mama got permission from the authorities and went to see papa in the hospital. She found out there how he found us. Like mama, he sent inquiries to all medical institutions, but received no replies. In the hospital he met one of mama’s girlfriends. She didn’t know where we were, but gave him some good advice: ‘Look for Genia as a civilian. She was probably called to the front, and you therefore need to send inquiries to the Head Military Medical Bureau of the Peasant Workers Red Army.’ Papa wrote there, and they gave him our location. And he then sent us a long telegram.”

Chapter 13

War Tragedies “Papa’s family history is pretty straightforward. His family was middle-class, and it consisted of two people: papa’s father, Wolf, who was born in Yampol, on the Dniester River, and his mother, our grandma Hannah, who was born in Odessa and graduated high school there. Our father’s grandpa, our great grandfather, had a small store. He dealt in farm supplies, selling them as a middleman.” “Is this the one who was called Avrum de Roiter, Avrum the Red?”


“Yes. Not because he was red, but because he had a bright ruddy complexion, with a big reddish beard. Besides his store, Avrum had some land with a vineyard, a water mill, a yard, and a vegetable garden. He was completely uneducated and ignorant; he didn’t even study at a cheder. He stood out because he was married many times, which was completely unacceptable among Jews. But he never got divorced: all his wives died one after the other, and papa was born from the last one, the sixth wife, I think.” “But I talked with Aunt Rosa before emigrating. She told me that a rabbi granted him a divorce from the next-to-last wife, because she beat his children. He was only married to her for about a month. Avrum would go to his store for the whole day, and when he got home, the neighbors would complain to him that his new wife beat his small children and did not feed them. He went to the rabbi, who made inquiries. The neighbors confirmed everything, and the rabbi made an exception in light of the short marriage, giving the ruddy Avrum a divorce. Then the last wife appeared, the sixth wife, as you said, our great grandmother. But Rosa told me that Avrum had only four wives, not six.” “They called her Molka. She was his children’s nanny at first, and became Avrum’s wife after the divorce. Wolf was their only son. And our grandmother Hannah’s father was a pharmacist in Odessa. He had his own drugstore, and he gave his daughter what was then considered a good education. When his children grew up, he passed his drugstore along to his sons, and took his wife and Hannah to Yampol, where he also bought a drugstore.” “Why did he suddenly leave Odessa for a small village?” “He had two sons, whom he decided to give an education. He sent them to study pharmacy in Bologna, Italy. When his sons returned to Odessa after completing their education, the three of them felt cramped in the tiny drugstore. So he left it to them and went to Yampol with his unmarried daughter to be with his oldest daughter, who lived not far away. But he miscalculated, because there were two kinds of people in Yampol: those who never got sick, and those who used home remedies when they got sick – all kinds of herbs, chicken broth, and decoctions – and didn’t accept anything else. No one came to the drugstore, and Hannah’s father gradually went broke. In the end, Hannah became a schoolteacher. At first, her personal life was unhappy. None of the young men in Yampol paid any attention to her, because she had no dowry. And in time she became an old maid, although she was quite beautiful. I can personally confirm this. I remember her from the wartime – she was a very beautiful woman.” “Did she finish high school?” “Apparently she did. I’ve even heard talk of a medal. She said something about being awarded one. But she needed to pay for the


medal, and no one seems to have bought it for her, because her parents didn’t have enough money, or maybe they begrudged it. Her teacher’s salary made a substantial contribution to the family income, and she worked very hard, also giving private lessons. One of her students was our grandfather Wolf, who fell in love with her. But when he told his father, ruddy Avrum, that he wanted to get married, there was disagreement within the family. Molka supported her son, but Avrum was against the marriage: ‘What are you trying to do, shame me? What will people think of me? They’ll think my son is so damaged that he’ll marry someone too old for him, and without a dowry, no less. I could marry him off to any girl in the district. My son is an eagle! Anyone would marry him! And with a good dowry, too!’ Eventually they came to an agreement: fine, let him marry, but Hannah’s father should give them some kind of dowry, at least. It wasn’t possible that a pharmacist from Odessa could have nothing. If worst came to worst, let his children in Odessa help out. Here’s how events unfolded: Molka knew where the hiding place where Avrum kept his money was… Then she told him that Hannah’s father was giving a dowry for her. ‘Well, since they’re giving it, let there be a wedding,’ agreed our great grandfather.” “Was the wedding in Yampol?” “Yes. It went according to custom. Hannah’s father presented a dowry to Wolf, in front of everyone, in front of all the honest people, so that everyone could see it. But they say Molka, after waiting a while, was frightened that there would be a scandal, and decided to confess everything to her husband: ‘Listen, Avrum, I took money for the dowry…’ ‘Be quiet, fool! What, do you think I don’t count my money?!’ And Hannah was taken into their family. Our great grandfather and Molka lived with her, and they loved and respected her very much.” “What was the house like – was it made of stone? wood?” “It was a stone house, and it stood on the bank of the Dniester.” “Is it still there? Has it been preserved?” “Probably not. No one has said anything about this house. Although I know that Rosa and Grisha were in Yampol after the war, they didn’t say anything about it, which means it isn’t there anymore.” “And what about the store?” “Our great grandfather left everything to Wolf – the store, all the goods, the mill, the yard, the vegetable garden, and the vineyard on the other side of the Dniester.” “Why was everything left to him?” “Because the children from the earlier marriages, as far as I know, went to America. They were much older than our grandfather.” “So would I be able to see them?” “It’s very possible. They have the same last name.


Later, Molka was the first to die, and Avrum lived to a very old age. He was well over 90. He survived into the Soviet era and died in the following way. Every morning, he did the following exercise: he moved a chair to the wall, stood on the chair and lifted a dumbbell from the clock: they had wall clocks. But one day – this was already in the 1920s – he stood on the stool, began to lift the weight, and he stumbled, fell from the stool, broke his leg, and soon died. He was almost 100. Wolf and Hannah had eleven children. Six of them died in infancy or childhood, and five survived. Papa was the fourth. The oldest was Rosa, then Bella, then Senya, then our papa, Srul, and the last was Tsilya.” “So were Germans there during World War I?” “No, the Germans were never there. On the contrary, the Russian army crossed the Dniester and were located in Bessarabia, in Romania. When Romania entered the war on the side of the Entente in 1916, the Romanian front was formed, and the Russian army came to the aid of the Romanians. They fought against Austria-Hungary, and not badly. Not one German soldier set foot there during the war.” “Did they live all right, not too badly?” “They lived all right before the revolution, but they were not rich, because for all his good qualities, Wolf was not a successful businessman. I’ll tell you a few stories, so that you can see how they lived. Once, a detachment of Ataman Tyutyunnik attacked Yampol. Well, these bandits were Petlyura’s followers, though not entirely. When Petlyura lost power, his General-Cornet Tyutyunnik organized a gang based in Romania. From there they attacked these Podolsky villages and robbed them, taking everything they could from houses and huts. So, they say that during this raid, one man in a tall fur hat and galloons stopped by his house, gathered all the silver dishes, forks, spoons, and all other valuables he could find into a bag, and left with it. And when Tyutyunnik’s people galloped off, he came back and returned everything.” “So who was that?” “It was their relative.” “So he robbed them in view of the bandits?” “Yes, he was dressed like a bandit, in a tall fur hat and galloons, like one of their men… And papa was always hungry…” “Why?” “When the family sat down to eat, they always invited someone to dine with them. Five children, the mother and father, grandfather and grandmother, and guests. They boiled a chicken, put a pot on the table with chicken broth, with little pieces of chicken in it. Everyone was also served hominy. Do you know what this is? It’s porridge with corn flour. Papa was rarely able to get a piece of chicken from the pot, and he would leave the table hungry.


Since they were on a self-sufficient farm, everything was their own. There was a cow, two horses, and chickens. All farming production methods were implemented. They had fruit and grapes, they made wine, and were able to keep the grapes in the attic in the winter, sprinkling them with sawdust. They gathered a couple of bags of nuts from an old nut tree, and they had enough nuts to roast for the whole year. The house had one big room, which was called a hall, and two or three tiny rooms. Nobody ever slept in the hall. This whole big family lived in the three small rooms. The hall was always on full display. There was even a piano, which was locked so that the children wouldn’t strike it and destroy the valuable instrument.” “And did they dine in the hall?” “Yes, they did. And in the summer, they ate outside, under an awning.” “And what kind of education did the children have?” “The boys went to cheder, and in Soviet times, to school. The oldest daughter, Rosa, studied agronomy at the technical institute. She was very pretty, and the director of the institute liked her. He visited them one day at home – the technical institute was located on the other side of the Dniester – and asked for Rosa’s hand in marriage. But he was much older than her, and grandfather refused him and removed Rosa from the institute. The older daughters waited for grooms. They had to work in the mill and vineyard, tend the cow, chickens, and horses, work in the yard and the vegetable garden, and also help grandfather in the store. All the work fell on two people – grandpa and papa – because his older brother shirked, saying he was sick though he was actually perfectly healthy, only shorter, thinner, and more frail than papa.” “And were the children ever beaten?” “Never.” “And the incident with the horse, when papa didn’t have his can with sunflower oil, and the horse stopped short at the fence, and papa flew through it? Do you know that story?” “I don’t know about that incident, but I know another one. Papa loved the cinema. But there was no movie theater in Yampol – it was in Mogilev-Podolsky. So papa played a trick. He took eggs from Molka’s chicken coop, wrapped them up them carefully, mounted the horse without a saddle, and galloped to the movie theater in Mogilev-Podolsky, which was approximately 20 miles away. He gave them the eggs as a form of payment and watched the film. Then he got on the horse and galloped back.” “He did this in secret?” “Yes. He actually stole eggs from his grandmother. The story of how Aunt Rosa got married is also interesting. They had a neighbor, a shoemaker named Grinchuk. He had several children, all boys, who became soldiers. One son became a pilot, and our uncle Grisha served in the army in Georgia, and took part in the suppression of the Georgian Menshevik rebellion. Then, when he


finished his active service, he was sent to the Kronstadt military institute, which he graduated. He received the title of platoon commander, went to his father in Yampol, and started to take care of Aunt Rosa. But Wolf didn’t want him to marry his daughter and take her from his home, so an escape was arranged. The two brothers and a sister took part in the conspiracy. There was no railroad in Yampol; the station was in MogilevPodolsky. They hitched a horse to the cart, and our papa drove Grisha and Rosa to the railroad for a train to Kronstadt, at Grisha’s request. And they entrusted Aunt Bella to give her parents Rosa’s letter, after a certain amount of time had passed. But Bella confessed quickly, when it was discovered that the cart and one of the horse were missing. Grandfather hitched the other horse and rushed off in pursuit, getting to the platform before the train left. He saw everyone on the platform, went up to Grisha, and got on his knees before him: ‘I beg you, give me back my daughter.’ Grisha said, ‘all right, take her away!’ But Rosa objected to this decision. ‘What are you doing,’ she said, “rejecting me?’ ‘No, I’m not rejecting you, but if your father demands…’ ‘Never! I’ve made up my mind to go to a big city, to something I haven’t seen in Yampol. I’m going with you, and that’s that.’ And they left. And then all the children went their separate ways. When collectivization began, papa left for Ostrogorsk, where his sister lived. After graduating the cooperative technical institute, he became a bookkeeper, and later wound up in the military unit in Mogilev-Podolsky, where he met mama.” “And were our parents dispossessed?” “Not completely. Our grandfather was warned that they were after him. He quickly gathered everything he could, and left for Odessa with grandmother and Tsilya, his youngest.” “So they were not dispossessed?” “If they had been, grandfather would have wound up in Siberia. Do you understand? And all the children’s passports would have been stamped ‘Son (or daughter) of a kulak.’ But that didn’t happen.” “And who warned them?” “The same relative who helped them during the raid of Tyutyunnik’s gang.” “And everything was left behind? The house, the vineyard, the mill, the store, the yard, the vegetable garden, and the cow, horses, chickens and eggs…?” “Yes, everything was left to the government… Grandfather settled in Odessa as a manager of the Division of Suburban State Farms. There were many of these there.” “But what happened to them?” “This is what happened. He had a lot of knowledge of agriculture. He was sent to buy something for the state farm…” “Machinery?”


“Maybe. Or maybe it was some kind of seed, or something else. He took this opportunity, and in 1933 visited all of his children. He stopped by Kharkov, where mama and papa were, and mama told me that he was doing well then: he was vigorous, active, brought them presents, maybe a little money. This is how he drove around to see all his children.” “And?” “And when he returned to Odessa, on the very first day, his briefcase was dragged off on the tram.” “What does that mean – dragged off?” “Well, not exactly dragged off, but ripped off, taken away. A man is sitting on the tram with his briefcase on his lap; that means his hands are on the briefcase. Then someone passes by, grabs the briefcase, rips it away with a quick, strong movement and runs out of the tram with it.” “But that’s just robbery!” “Of course. Real, genuine robbery. And what would you expect, when there was hunger all around, corpses lying all over the street, people dying of starvation. This was the awful year of 1933: did you think people would be playing waltzes for you in the town park? People were ready to do anything to survive!” “And so?” “So, Wolf returned home, and in the morning grandma found him hanging at the end of the hall. There was a hook on the wall. He attached a rope to it and hung himself.” “Was the theft of his briefcase really the only reason?” “It could have been. After all, there were many invoices, agreements, and maybe a decent sum of money in the briefcase. On the other hand, mama told me that he thought this up earlier, and was visiting all his children to say goodbye to them, making a farewell tour, so to speak.” “Did he show any signs earlier?” “No, nothing. He was calm and even-tempered. Nobody noticed any kind of depression.” “Did he drink?” “No. He was a good family man.” “So where did papa move after Ostrogorsk?” “He served in the army, and he liked it there. He told me that it’s easiest to be an infantryman, because he only needed to look out for himself and his rifle. Cavalrymen’s duties were more complicated. They had to look out for themselves, their rifle, and their horse. And an artilleryman had the most complicated duties of all. He had to look out for himself, his rifle, his horse, and his cannon. But papa served in the artillery, so why was it so easy for him? Because for him, looking after his horse was a piece of cake. He was used to this from childhood, working with his father. And the main thing was that in the army, meat, porridge, and bread were served every day, and you could also study – papa


continued his education while serving. By the beginning of the war, he was already a battery commander. He was able to find a common language with people, and was liked by men and women because, besides everything else, he was handsome.” “Yes, you’re right. When we walked along Sumskaya Street, he’d stop to talk with someone every 30 feet…” “Now, let me tell you how he survived the war. He served in the artillery regiment in the Kharkov territorial division before the war. People who came to meetings knew each other. For two or three months at the meetings, they were together, and their families became friendly. This later played an important role in his service. When they were sent to Western Belorussia three months before the war, their division was somewhere in the area of the city of Borisov. The war took its toll on their regiment in the beginning, but papa told me that the division made a very orderly retreat and held onto their cannons. They had horses, which pulled the cannnons, and they rode the horses.” “How many men were in their battery? How many cannons?” “The batteries were different sizes – some had four cannons, some six. But I don’t know how many men there were – probably 20 to 30.” “What was his rank?” “Lieutenant.” “And did they really already have ranks by then?” “They did. They didn’t have shoulder straps then, but they had titles for the lower ranks – up to colonel – starting in 1935. And in the upper ranks, it worked this way: in 1943, the brigade commander became a Major General, the division commander became a Lieutenant General, the corps commander became a General-Colonel, and the army commander became an Army General. But there were other titles – colonel, lieutenant colonel, major, captain, lieutenant – starting in 1935. Up to 1935, a lieutenant was a platoon commander, the captain was a company commander, the major was a battalion commander, and the colonel was a regiment commander. This was the French way. So, the regiment made an orderly retreat. They made it to the city of Rzhev or, I think, to Vyazma. In Vyazma, there were some fierce battles, and papa’s group of soldiers was surrounded. After Vyazma they got out of the encirclement, as many of them that could. There were forests around Vyazma, and they went by the forest roads. Papa told me, ‘There was a highway on the way to Moscow, an equipped road, and a forest road parallel to the highway, about 500-600 feet away. So, the Germans rode tanks, motorcycles, and cars on the highway, and we went on the forest road. We saw the Germans, and the Germans saw us, but we didn’t exchange fire, because the Germans weren’t after us. They were rushing forward, and so were we. So, we were often going in parallel streams, but this was only in certain places; most often, the road led deep into the forest.’


The Germans bombed the retreaters from the air, though, and in one of those attacks, papa was wounded in the head. He was saved by his helmet. A fragment penetrated the helmet and hit him on the head. His skull wasn’t broken, but there was a pretty deep wound. You remember the scar on his head, right?” “Yes. He had the scar his whole life. An enormous one, across his whole forehead, from the forehead to the crown of his head…” “The wound was at a tangent, but deep. He was in unbelievable pain after that, and he lost consciousness at first. It was a deep contusion… Then they retreated to the shore of some lake, and decided to swim.” “How many of them were there?” “Five. All from the same battery. And then, when they got to the lake, a German plane flew over them. They jumped ashore, were unable to make it to the forest, and lay down right on the open bank. The white bandage on papa’s head was clearly visible to the German pilot; it was a clear, sunny day. The German on the low-altitude flight shot a round of bullets, and one of them hit papa on the leg. One of papa’s comrades, lying next to him, bumped into his leg with his head. They were lying on the grass, and his comrade said, ‘Shura, you are wounded, blood from your wound is flowing on my face.’ They bandaged his leg. At first he tried to walk; they carved a kind of cane for him. The whole bandage was soaked with blood, his leg hurt badly, and he couldn’t walk anymore. So how was he saved? By his comrades: they didn’t abandon him. These were Kharkovites, guys from his battery, whom he’d known for several years. They knew him, too; they were friends, you know? They chopped down two little saplings, tied a kind of coat-tent between them to make a stretcher, and took turns carrying it. Along those forest roads. This is a real feat, Musya. Wounded men then were abandoned very often. No one paid any attention to them. Even those of high rank lay there and died.” “How long did they carry him?” “Several days, maybe a week. Finally, they got back to their comrades … The rearguard was there. A general was there. Papa knew who this was. It was Ivan Stepanovich Konev. In a leather coat. He was inspecting the soldiers returning from the forest, and assigning them to a chain to hold the fort. He ordered papa to be put on a medical cart, called a wagon, and commanded those who brought him in to join the chain.” “What month was it?” “September, I think the second half. It was between Vyazma and Moscow. They were in summer uniforms. The medical wagon brought papa to a station, and he was put on a medical train, which brought him to the rear. And the guys who were sent to the general chain were all killed. Papa searched for them for a long time during and after the war… None of them remained among the living. I know the name of one of the friends who saved him. His last name was Kapusta.” “Were they killed on that same day?”


“Papa didn’t know when they were killed. After the war, the families of some of them remained in Kharkov. Kapusta’s wife, Klava, visited our home, and papa told her everything. I heard this, as I was present for these conversations.” “Did Kapusta have children?” “Yes, they had a child. Klava stayed in Kharkov during the occupation. After the war, they made complaints about her because of this. I know that papa gave evidence in her favor, telling them about her husband. She didn’t go to jail. She was called in for questioning. The Ministry of Internal Affairs took an interest in something: maybe someone had denounced her, or maybe she hadn’t behaved right. On the whole, things worked out for her personally. So, to continue. In the end, papa wound up at the hospital in Kyzylorda, in Kazakhstan.” “Did it take him a long time to get there? A month?” “Yes, about that long…” “And the bullet was in his leg the whole time?” “Yes.” “And he didn’t get gangrene from the festering wound?” “Well, he was on a medical train. They put bandages on him. And in Kyyzlorda he had an operation. The bullet was pulled out, and his leg was cleaned several times. His left leg remained shorter than the right for the rest of his life. And he also had problems with his head. Although the fragment didn’t penetrate his skull, it pinched part of a bone, which got stuck under the skull, and it irritated his brain, causing terrible headaches. And only when this piece of bone was removed did he start feeling better. And it was right then that he found us and sent us a long telegram…” “And that’s when mama came to him?” “Yes, that’s exactly when.”

Chapter 14 School

“And so, mama received a very long telegram from papa from the hospital in Kyzylorda. This is in central Kazakhstan, on the Syr-Darya River. Mama left us with Aunt Tsilya in Eckheim. When she arrived at the hospital, papa had finished his treatment, and was transferred to the reserves. He was assigned limited suitability for military service of the second degree. This was sometime in March or April of 1942. Papa was assigned to be a teacher of artillery at the riflery school of the Central Asian military district. Mama turned to the personnel department of this district with a request to provide her with work, so she could be together with papa… And she was transferred from Eckheim to the medical section of the school, in which papa would be teaching. The school she was


assigned to was in the city of Chirchik, about 25 miles from Tashkent. At the school, they taught shooting from mortars, which were widely used at the time. They were only at the Chirchik school for a short time. In autumn of 1942, papa was transferred to Termez, a city in southern Uzbekistan near the border of Afghanistan, on the Amurdarya River separating the two countries. Termez is an ancient city. Alexander the Great went there during his campaign to India 2,300 years ago. Amudarya begins in Pamir, in Tajikistan, and flows down in a storm from the mountains. There it is not called Amudarya, but Vakh, which, merging with another river, winds up in the valley and becomes Amudarya. Then it flows through all of Uzbekistan and Karakalpakstan, turns to the north and falls into the Aral Sea. What was unusual about this city? In this little city, there were two fortresses. One of them was old, like Belyaev’s; it was clay with thick walls. The fortress was built in the following way: bricks were made from clay, baked in the sun rather than an oven. Then walls were built from these bricks, and although they were not very sturdy, they were still preserved for more than two thousand years. The fortress, of course, was continually constructed and reconstructed, and over the centuries it served as a military outpost. But papa’s school was located in the new fortress, constructed in Tsarist times at the end of the nineteenth century. This fortress was built from bricks. It seemed to me, as a boy, to be enormous and very tall. It didn’t take up much space, but the walls were powerful, several yards thick, with casemates, deep entrances and living quarters, where people could hide, and there was room for cannons, ammunition, water, and food. The mortar school was moved from Chirchik to this fortress, and the riflery school was located in the old fortress. The arrangement of the schools on the border areas of Central Asia turned out to be a very advantageous decision by the government, since the students and teachers at the schools could be used in case of unforseen military action on the border.” “And who were the Basmachi? Afghans?” “No, the Basmachi were local people, Uzbeks and Tajiks, revolting against Soviet power.” “But weren’t they based in Afghanistan?” “Not at all. They were based in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.” “But weren’t they always awaiting attacks from the Afghan side of the Amudarya?” “That was only at the very beginning. But the first thing the Soviet government did was to build a strong border, which was very difficult to cross.” “But didn’t the border go along the Amudarya?” “Yes, but there was a prickly wire on the Soviet side. Crossing it would have been almost impossible. A border with gates, dogs, and


watchtowers – say what you will about the Soviet Union, but they knew how to guard borders. The Basmachi bands benefited from the support of the local population. In the daytime, these were Dekhkane, and at night, they gathered in detachments and conducted armed warfare… The student-commanders in the school had a very short term: six months at the beginning, and then it was reduced to three months, because there was a great need for young commanders at the front. When they graduated, the students were given the title of Junior Lieutenant or Lieutenant, regardless of the length of preparation. After each graduation, the students, organized into marching battalions, were transported to the heat of battle at the front, under the command of the teachers. Our papa took part in a battle near Stalingrad with his marching battalion in December 1942.” “I don’t remember papa being at home at all.” “Well, first of all, he went to the front for a couple of months every three to six months. Second, both mama and papa came home very late, not just for us, but in general. The workday lasted 12-14 hours. Third, he often went to the shooting range in the desert with his students for two or three days.” “Did they shoot with real shells there?” “Of course. Live ammunition from the cannons and shells from the mortars. We practically never saw mama and papa, but stayed with Aunt Tsilya all the time. Then grandma Hannah came. Father was a terrific artillerist. He could shoot from all kinds of cannons and mortars.” “What about anti-aircraft guns?” “I think he could shoot from those, too.” “What else do you know about Termez?” “In the tsarist era, Termez was a place for exiled officers. There were two cities for this: Kushka, the southernmost point of Russia, and Termez, the hottest point. There was a fortress in Kushka, too, where officers were exiled. There was a two-story building with columns near us. It was called the Red Army House, and because of its architecture, it differed sharply from all the barrack-type houses of the kind we lived in. It was a pre-revolutionary officers’ assembly hall, and when we were there it was a library. I learned to read from the book The Silver Skates, by Mary Mapes Dodge, who, despite never having visited Holland, wrote a book about two poor Dutch children who skated very well. Why did the book have this title? Because Holland is a country of canals, covered with ice in the winter. Hans and Greta, a brother and sister from a poor family, were skaters. Our mama, before I learned how to read, read this book to me. Later, she was busy and stopped reading it to me. I was left alone, and badly wanted to see how it continued. I had already learned my letters in Kharkov; I just didn’t know how to read yet.


We had already been evacuated to Eckheim, and I gradually learned to put the letters together and taught myself to read using this book. As soon as I learned to read, I began going to this library, which turned out to have a great collection, with pre-revolutionary books. Many good books were there: Tolstoy, Turgenev, Gogol, Pushkin, Lermontov. There were Soviet writers, too.” “Did you borrow Stepanov’s Port Arthur and Novikov-Priboi’s Tsushima from there? I remember you reading them.” “Port Arthur came out during the war, and our parents bought it. We’d had it at home for a long time. It wasn’t a library book, but our own.” “And Tsushima?” “Tsushima was also our book. During the war, I remember that we had four books – we were always moving: The Silver Skates, brought from Kharkov, Port Arthur, an enormous volume, and Tsushima, in two volumes. Everything else we borrowed from the library.” “You mean all the classics? War and Peace, Anna Karenina?” “Yes. Since there was nothing to do, I read every day straight through. There was a big mulberry tree outside our window. We lived on the first floor, and the tree went up to the second floor. It didn’t grow upwards, like a pyramidal poplar; it was a branching tree with shade and coolness. We climbed up the branches in the afternoon, sat there and read. During the war we were hungry. We had our own sheep, Byashka, and a suckling pig. We had the following task in the morning: these animals lived in a very small wooden shed, and in the morning, we led them out of it. There was very little vegetation, but they ate something, and in the evening we were supposed to catch them and lead them back. We rode on Byashka. He didn’t like it, and sooner or later threw us to the ground. And it was very hard to catch the pig, because there was very little food, and he was emaciated, and his legs were as long as a dog’s – in general he looked more like a dog than a pig. He had a skinny body and ran very well, and he didn’t want to go back to the shed at all. We gathered boys from all the homes and arranged a hunt, and we brought him back to the shed as a lively gang. It was a very difficult task.” “Did he have a name?” “No, he didn’t. We just called him ‘piglet.’ We went to the fortress several times. It was not far away. The walls were very high, and the fortress could be seen from our home. It took an adult about 15 minutes to get there, but we took about two hours. We looked for all kinds of amusements along the way. There were many crevices, trenches, and aryks. The fortress was preserved, of course. Two armed guards stood at the entrance. But we were little children, and since there weren’t too many children and everyone knew us, we went up to the guard, and he would pretend not to notice us, and we went inside to the fortress, past


the guard, and ran to mama at the clinic. And there was one other interesting thing. It was always cool in the fortress. The heat in Termez was unbearable. It bordered on the desert, there were few trees, and it was covered with sand, but the thick walls of the fortress somehow retained coolness. And all of the living quarters were right near the walls. There were several little houses inside. We got a treat at the clinic. Do you know what it was? They gave us sparkling water. They took a cup of regular water, put a spoonful of soda in it, and added some kind of acid vitamin in the form of a red fluid, a few drops, and if they had any, a teaspoon of sugar. More often it was without sugar, since there was a big shortage of it. They mixed everything with a spoon and we drank it by the glass. What bliss this was! We hadn’t seen carbonated water for three years, and here we were drinking it homemade. I truly had the impression that the people there, though diverse, were very friendly: this is precisely how I remember the Termez period. All families of commanders made friends with each other, and so did the children. However, we were separate from the rest of the world. There were Termez citizens, but we we didn’t have any contact with them. We were isolated from other people, but friends with each other. Later, after the war, I lived in communal apartments, and it was a frightful experience. But during the war, in these difficult years, people had very good relations with each other. At first, the director of the school was General Smirnov. He was a tsarist officer until the revolution, but was then called up to the Red Army. He fought in the Civil War and the Finnish War, but not in World War II, because he was in Central Asia. He was made director of the Chirchik institute. When we arrived, he was still a colonel, and then, while we were there, he was promoted to Major General. He was already quite elderly, but his wife was a dentist at the school’s medical clinic. He received a raise. This was an average-sized school, but he was transferred into the Military Academy. There were many of these near Tashkent. In Chirchik there was an armored tank academy; when we were transferred south to Termez, Colonel Meshechkin was made director of the institute. Meshechkin was a very interesting man. He was not particularly well educated. He proudly told us that he graduated from a church parish school, and that was it. That meant he could construct one or two sentences without punctuation marks, and sign his name, but he couldn’t read. But this man had a fantastic mind. He was, as they say, an engineer of human souls. He understood people very well, and had a wonderful sense of his environment. He had exceptional natural talent, especially as a leader. Externally, he appeared to be stern and strict, but inwardly he was very kind and gentle. So somehow he was able to steer the ship of the school through stormy waves. And he was seriously wounded, to boot. He had the following unpleasant experience. At the beginning of the war, he stepped on a mine that was laid for the infantry.


It exploded on his lower legs. This took place not far from Poltava. Several dozen tiny shards hit him in the stomach. He was operated on right there, but some of the shards remained in his stomach. And already when he was director, a shard began to poke out from his stomach from time to time. He would be sent to the hospital, and he was in great pain on the days when the shards poked out. Colonel Meshechkin was very friendly with mama, and highly respected her. They worked very hard. They would go to work at sunrise, and return home very late in the evening, only to sleep. All the rest of the time, they were in the fortress, with no weekends off. We only saw them at night. And we generally never saw papa, since he would travel away from home for shooting. Late in the evening, Meshechkin (he was called Alexander Yakovlevich) would come to see mama at the medical clinic. He wouldn’t ask her for sparkling water, of course, but he would say, ‘Anya, my stomach really hurts. Could you give me some kind of anaesthetic?’ For anaesthetic, she would pour a small amount of alcohol into a little beaker. He would drink the beakerful, wash it down with water, and say, ‘now I feel better.’” “Did he have a family?” “He had a wife and daughter. His son was killed at the front, in the very first days of the war. He visited us in Kharkov several times after the war. He was directing the Vysotsk school in the Sumskaya district, where your Luisa was born. Then he retired and became chair of the Vysotsk District Executive Committee. Luisa remembered him well. All of Vysotsk knew him. And he was apparently a very active chair. Now his replacement in Termez was a really interesting man – Colonel Ginzburg. Until 1941, Ginzburg had been a military attaché in Tokyo, with the rank of Colonel. This was a man who had graduated two academies, and earlier a university, so he had three higher degrees! He was a very educated, extremely smart person. He was Meshechkin’s first replacement in the academic department. Ginzburg wasn’t married, but he had a son. His son graduated from the same school that we did, received the rank of Lieutenant, went to the front, and was killed in one of the very first battles. Therefore, Colonel Ginzburg was very lonely, and liked to visit officers who had families. He would come and play preference.” “Do you remember his name and patronymic?” “No, I don’t. He was a Muscovite. After the war, he returned to Moscow and directed an academic department at a school there, too. He still had a pre-revolutionary apartment in Moscow. He wound up at our school because he was recalled from Japan and demoted: he fell into disgrace. He wasn’t court martialed, though; he remained a member of the party, and his rank wasn’t lowered. He did something wrong, and it was an enormous humiliation for him. Can you imagine? A man with such education, and even a professional intelligence agent? What was he to do in such a school? Now after the war, Meshechkin told us that he met with Ginzburg in Moscow, when he went there on business. He told


him, ‘Listen, why don’t you leave Moscow and get a transfer to my school in Vysotsk. There’s nothing good waiting for you in Moscow.’ Ginzburg just laughed at him. But it turned out that Meshechkin was smarter and had more foresight: he understood the environment better. One time in 1948, papa went on a business trip to the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Moscow. Before that he had visited Ginzburg several times. Ginzburg lived near the Ministry, somewhere in the Lubyanka area. Father decided to stop by his place. Ginzburg lived on the fourth floor of a five-story building without an elevator. Papa told us, ‘I went into the entrance, walked up the stairs, and as I was at the third floor, I saw a woman who lived on the same landing as Ginzburg. She was friends with him and stopped by often. Perhaps they were even more than friends, since he was completely alone. She recognized me, grabbed me by the hand, turned forcefully, and pulled me downstairs. She put her finger to her mouth. When we got out to the street, she told me, ‘Ginzburg has been arrested. There are people in his apartment.’ After this, Ginzburg was never heard from again.’ Meshechkin visited us in Kharkov once again and had drinks with us. He toasted Ginzburg, and then said, ‘I told him that nothing good awaited him in Moscow…’” “Did he find out all of this from papa?” “Yes.” “And what does it mean that there were people in Ginzburg’s apartment? Had he only just been arrested? Before papa stopped by?” “No, they were simply sent to his apartment for a while, to find out about his connections. Major Lunin, an associate professor of history at Moscow State University, also taught at the school. He was assigned to teach the course on socioeconomics, which was called sotsek. On Sundays, before film screenings at the Red Army House, he gave lectures on the military and international situation. He surveyed not only the situation on our front, but also in Africa and Italy. He spoke about resources, and made predictions. According to his predictions, Hitler, Italy, and Japan were headed for absolute collapse. By the way, one interesting point. In the Red Army House library, the newspaper ‘The British Ally, published by the British delegation in Moscow, came out once a month in Russian. It reported various facts about the Allied military action. We sometimes read this paper, too; I held it in my hands. I don’t know where Lunin dug up all his information, but it was probably from this ‘British Ally.’ He was so good at synthesizing everything; he was wonderfully gifted at analysis. I don’t know what became of him after the war. He probably returned to Moscow. By the way, Colonel Ginzburg gave me a personal present. When I started school, it became clear that I had bad vision. He gave me a pince-nez. He had two pince-nez. He kept one for himself, and gave me the other, in a beautiful little Japanese box. The first eyeglasses I ever wore in my life were this pince-nez.”


“Did the prescription work for you?” “He was far-sighted, like elderly people, and at the time this pince-nez suited me, too.” “How did you keep it on?” “There was also a chain.” “But I don’t remember you wearing it.” “I put it on only when I was reading, you know?” “You didn’t use it in school?” “No, I didn’t take it to school. They didn’t allow me to have it there. When I was home, in our mulberry tree, reading books, my eyes would get tired, and I’d put it on. Then it got lost somewhere. But that’s not all. When the war ended and everyone started to disperse, he gave us two things besides the pince-nez. First, he gave us a phonograph, which we took to Kharkov…” “I thought papa brought that from the front.” “No, it was from Colonel Ginzburg.” “It was light blue, right?” “Yes, a nice, light blue phonograph. He also gave us a dozen records for this phonograph. The records had popular songs of Shulzhenko and Utyosov, and dances – the foxtrot, tango, waltzes. And he gave us an interesting inkwell, do you remember it?” “Oh yes, I remember. It had a rubber edge…” “It was a kind of rubber cylinder. There was a little bottle in it, with a thick glass lid twisted around the neck. And inside the bottle was the ink, and the whole ampule was in the thick rubber cylinder. Therefore, whenever it fell, it didn’t break. We verified this many times. We threw it against a stone in front of all the guys at school. And that had no effect: it only bounced, and that’s all.” “Yes, I remember that.” “You do?” “Yes, I remember the inkwell. What an amazing thing!” “So there you have it. We had three things from Ginzburg: the pince-nez, the phonograph with records, and the inkwell.” “Did he also visit us?” “Yes, he visited all the officers with wives and children. He was lonely. He really missed his dead son.” “What do you think: did other teachers besides papa and Meshechkin visit him in Moscow, or did we have closer relations with him?” “Everyone visited him. There was an awful housing shortage in Moscow at the time, and he had a big apartment to himself in the center of the city. After all, he was a military attaché before the war! And he had an apartment on the fourth floor of a beautiful Moscow home – can you imagine?” “And when we were passing through Moscow after the war, was he there then?”


“No. we stopped by to see another of papa’s friends, Misha Girshberg. There was Ginzburg, and this was Girshberg. He was a geodesist, a graduate student at a mountain institute, and he taught cartography at a school. He was very poor. And he had a daughter. She was named Ksenia. But he lived in one room in a graduate student dormitory on Lefortovsky Val, which he returned to after the war. His daughter was around our age. We were friends with her. So, we spent one night in Moscow with him on our way to Kharkov. The room was 30 square feet, and the three of them lived together. And they put the four of us up, too. It was the postwar period, and this was considered normal. He was a good friend. And Ginzburg loved socializing, and was happy to have everyone over in Moscow.” “Do you remember their faces? Can you describe Ginzburg and Lunin?” “I can describe Lunin – he had such a face… If you remember Kirov, with his hair brushed back…” “Yes.” “Such a beautiful head of hair. You know, my understanding of age has shifted. I considered papa a very grown-up person. But it seemed to me that Lunin was almost an old man. Skinny, short. I only remember him from the classroom podium. He didn’t visit us at home. I remember that he had an astonishing voice, like an actor’s… And there was also Captain Sulkovsky, who was Polish, handsome, taught fortification attacking. He had a beard and moustache like d’Artagnan. He lived alone. I know that all his women died on him. He was a very cheerful man. And there was another interesting man who lived in our building. We were on the first floor, and we had two small rooms. And in the neighboring entrance on the second floor lived Major Dukler, the head of the military hospital. The system was complicated. There was a garrison, a garrison hospital, and every institute in the fortresses had its own medical unit. The military hospital was kind of above all of them. If someone was seriously sick or was injured in military exercises, then he was sent to Dukler at the hospital. So he was a big chief, and like a boss to mama. But the main thing was that we didn’t know that this major had violated the strictest order about returning all radios. He didn’t give his own back! He still had it. And he listened to everything on the sly. Therefore, on the night of May 8, 1945, he went out on his balcony and started shooting in the air with his pistol to celebrate Victory Day! As a result, the officers (and this was a military city), hearing the shots, half-dressed, grabbed their pistols and leapt out into the streets. And this Major Dukler, who had a mane of gray hair – not a young man – stood on the balcony and shouted ‘Peace! Peace! Victory! Peace has been declared! Victory! We’ve won! The Germans have surrendered!’ And he kept shooting in the air. And what did the officers do? They also started firing all their weapons in the air. That’s how he found out the Germans had surrendered: by listening to his radio.”


“And when was it announced on the radio?” “Not until the morning. He found out sooner than anyone. Everyone was filled with joy!” “I remember this.” “There was one woman in our communal apartment, in the third room… Her husband was killed in action. He was a teacher in our institute who brought cadets to the front, and was killed. In the very first battle. And while everyone was celebrating, hugging and kissing, our neighbor was crying… Our building had neither toilets nor water. You went outside to go to the toilet. There was no sewage or cesspool system. Water was taken from a well. But there was electricity, and a loudspeaker.” “And who served with mama?” “The medical unit only had a doctor and a surgeon, but there were quite a few nurses.” “What about the school? What was the school we studied at like?” “It was named after Engels. There was a civilian population there…” “You were saying that the civilian population there was special?” “The thing is, Termez was a place of exile for civilians. They were mostly Russian, the families of kulaks, and during the war, Polish families were also sent there. In 1939, when our forces freed Western Ukraine and Western Belorussia, many Polish officers were arrested, and their families were sent to Siberia, Kazakhstan, or elsewhere in Central Asia. But later, sometime after 1942, Anders’s army started to form in Central Asia. Former Polish war prisoners built an army, which served the Polish government in exile in London. And they made a treaty with us that this army would be transferred to the British front, from Central Asia to Iran, from Iran to Iraq, and from there to the theater of war operations. Then the Poles fought with the Italians and Germans in North Africa, and took part in the offensive in Sicily against Italy. The Anders army participated in the battles there. Many people living in Termez had husbands and fathers in the Anders Army, and some of these men were allowed to take their families to Iran.” “Did they live all right?” “They were free. No one touched them. And kulaks also lived freely. But I don’t even know how they earned enough to survive. I can’t imagine how they could feed themselves in Termez during the war. They probably worked in city institutions. There was still a district there, and it needed workers. There was a whole set of district institutions.” “Was there a marketplace?” “Yes, there was. I mentioned there were many nurses in mama’s medical unit. They also had titles and wore military uniforms. And women in military


uniforms also worked in the housekeeping department. But there were men all around, and the women wanted to dress up in front of them. So they took medical gauze, colored it and sewed white blouses from it. And they colored them with streptocide dissolved in various concentrations and made pink and red blouses as well, so that they wouldn’t all be white.” “Did they dance in the club?” “There was very little dancing. It was only done on holidays. Officers would come home very late, so there couldn’t be much dancing.” “I remember a hypnotist coming.” “Yes. We sat in the first row. The hypnotist said, ‘Close your eyes, put your fingers together, and interlock your hands.’ And anyone who couldn’t interlock their hands was called up to the stage. Then the hypnotist said, ‘Go to sleep, go to sleep, go to sleep.’ And you were sitting next to me, and you tugged my arm and said ‘Sasha, are you sleeping yet?’ And I really wanted him to hypnotize me, so that I’d get up on the stage with everyone else, but you hindered me.” “And there was a recital on November 7, and I read a poem of Simonov…” “Yes, you read ‘Red Army House’ in the big hall…” “And Meshechkin was there, and he handed out presents. They were from American packages – newspapers, chocolate.” “Yes, you recited poems and earned something for it. You were such a little kid. When you recited, everyone’s eyes filled with tears – you were so little…” “I read ‘Major Deev had a comrade – Major Petrov’.” “Yes, Simonov’s poem ‘The artillerist’s son’.” “Yes, ‘The artillerist’s son.’ And of course I was an artillerist’s son. I also remember our father bringing cadets to the front during the Siege of Budapest.” “Yes, that was his last trip, in February to March, 1945. It was a frightening battle. Many cadets were lost there, almost all of them. There were awful battles. Father fired day and night from his cannon…” “I remember how papa arrived very upset. It was already the end of the war…” “Yes, he slept for two days straight when he arrived. He was so unshaved. It was the first time I’d seen him with a beard and moustache. Then he shaved them off.” “Didn’t he have a ‘Liberator of Budapest’ medal?” “Yes, he did. He also had medals for ‘Defense of Stalingrad’ and ‘Victory over Germany,’ and an Order of the Red Star’.” “And how many officer-teachers were there in the school?” “Before it was disbanded, they took a group picture. We had this photo. Everyone stood or sat in four rows. I think there were twenty people in each row, so something like 60-80. And there were about 1,500-2,000 cadets. They lived in the barracks according to company. There were 160 men in each company. They slept on doubled bunks.”


“And were many teachers killed at the front when they went there with the cadets?” “I only know about those who lived in our building. One graduating class, a marshall batallion, with companies and platoons, would go to the front. Teachers were made commanders of the batallions, companies, and platoons. This meant that several teachers and the whole batallion took part in the battles. Then cadets, already battle-tested, would be sent to the military areas as young commanders, and the teachers would return to the school. Now the father of Valery Kozlov, who lived in our building, never returned from that damned Budapest; he was killed. Do you remember him? Kind of dark, my age, played chess well? Remember?” “No, I don’t remember him. But why were mortars so popular?” “They were very easy to operate. There was a pipe and a stand. One infantryman carried the pipe, and the other carried the stand. That was it, plus the little mortar shells. You put the shell in the pipe. There was a needle below. When you struck it, the needle pierced the fuse, and the shell flew over a thousand feet. No, it wasn’t precision shooting. The mortar had a handle, and if you twisted it, you could change the angle of inclination of the muzzle, and with it the flight trajectory of the shell.” “What other cannons were there?” “All kinds. 45mm anti-tank and 56mm anti-personnel cannons. Papa was an all-around marksman – he could shoot from any of them.” “And were there anti-aircraft guns?” “Yes, there were. There was one pilot in the school – he was wounded and was forbidden from flying. He taught a course on aircraft defense. He taught cadets how to distinguish different planes – bomber planes, storm troopers – so they’d know which plane might drop bombs and which would shoot from machine guns. They even poked fun of him. He was basically unemployed. There were no airplanes at the school. The cartography teachers even had maps, but the pilot didn’t even have an airplane.” “And did the teachers teach how to shoot from rifles and machine guns?” “Of course. The cadets had to be able to do everything.”

Chapter 15

After School “The thing is, papa had a unique gift. Of course, everyone tries to say something good about their parents. He had his faults, like anyone else, but I don’t want to talk about them. Papa had the gift of getting people to like him. For all that, he wasn’t complaisant. He didn’t flatter people or resort to guile. He was an ordinary person in this respect, but I wouldn’t call him simple-hearted. He didn’t try to win special favors: it simply happened of its own accord.


I’ve already said that the school was an isolated entity. Termez was the edge of the earth, with nightmarish natural conditions. When a hot wind blew from Afghanistan, the sand got stuck in your teeth.” “Do you remember how the sand stuck to our bare feet?” “Yes, it was terribly painful. And the sand was so scorching that you could boil an egg on it in one minute. All officer instructors of the school were either seriously wounded, limiting them to ‘Category B’ military service, or seriously ill. Colonel Ginzburg, who had been sent here as punishment, was an exception. Earlier, his duties had been higher than those of a general. One of the officers, a very unpleasant person, was Captain Yavich, leader of a special department. He picked on papa, found fault with him all the time. Papa was a captive. There was a rule that if you were in captivity but then left with your military unit, then you were no longer considered a captive, no longer had this status. The status of captive was very dangerous, and brought with it many unpleasant consequences. It meant endless monitoring and even repression. When he needed to fill out forms in the special unit, papa out of inexperience simply wrote that he left captivity in the area of Rzhev. But Yavich began probing, summoned papa, began to demand explanations. In a word, he wanted to pin this terrible status of captive on him. This business with Yavich didn’t end with the war. Once after the war, when papa was working in the financial department, he was called from the commander’s headquarters and told that Captain Yavich requested his presence. Papa said, ‘let him call me himself.’ Yavich called: ‘Sasha, I want to see you. How are you?’ Yavich was working somewhere in the Donbass as a Ministry of Internal Affairs operative. But papa, addressing him coldly, said ‘Excuse me, I am very busy today, and cannot meet you.’ And that was that. It was papa’s birthday in Summer 1945, and from day to day an order for the disbanding of the school was awaited. All the officer instructors stopped by our apartment. I can’t imagine how they could all fit into the two tiny rooms, but everyone looked upon this gathering as a farewell party. When the booze was finished, they started drinking diluted spirits and sat down to play cards on boxes of shells. You remember these boxes, the grayish green ones, very sturdy…” “Yes, I think we even brought them with us to Kharkov.” “That’s right. We had two of those boxes. They were very useful. You could sit on them, eat off them, do your homework, play cards. They served as furniture early on. Yes, and absolutely everyone who played blackjack lost to papa…” “Did they play for money?” “Yes, they did. Everyone lost. He would brag to mama: ‘See, Annechka? I beat everyone!,’ but in mama’s interpretation, they lost to him on purpose.


I remember many people’s last names. Captain Ovsyankin. He taught marksmanship. After the war, he visited us, and his wife, Klava, worked as a nurse in mama’s medical unit. Another Kharkovite, Senior Lieutenant Gribov, left for Donbass. When the school was disbanded, papa was given a choice: either enter the Higher Artillery Academy in Moscow or move to a different city in the same Central Asian military district, Fergana. We moved to Fergana, and papa served there for several months. They he decided to request his discharge, return to Kharkov, and work in his civilian specialty. In 1945, papa was 30 years old. We returned via Moscow, where the four of us visited the mausoleum. When we returned to Kharkov, papa showed us the warravaged city on the very first day. However, by that time, the larger part of the ruins had already been dismantled. That day, we also went to the zoo, which was open. They say the zoo was even open during the occupation. I remember the red foxes. It was January. January 12, 1946… Mama immediately got a position; after the war doctors were in high demand. She was the chief doctor for a pediatric clinic in Moskalevka. But papa had more difficulty getting work. Before he want to war, he was deputy director of a regional financial department. When he went there to try to find work, he saw one of his buddies from before the war. This man said to him, ‘Shura, first of all, nothing is available; second, to be honest, none of the positions will work out for you, although you could become a private inspector.’ ‘But I began at that level fifteen years ago!’ he said. ‘Don’t waste your time. Look for work seomewhere else,’ said his buddy. This guy was papa’s friend before the war, but he said all this without any shame. Some time passed, and papa still wasn’t able to find a position anywhere. Wherever he went, he was rejected. His mood became terrible. On top of that, there was more trouble: his wallet, with money and documents in it, was stolen.” “How did that happen?” “He was riding the tram along Pushkin Street. The tram was crammed full, and papa was hanging onto a strap with both hands, and the wallet was in the side pocket of his coat. So, someone took it.” “He didn’t feel anything?” “Not a thing. Later, after he got off the tram and reached into his pocket, it was gone!” “What a coincidence! First papa’s briefcase was stolen on the tram, then his wallet! Everything happened on the tram, as in Doctor Zhivago. Were there also food ration coupons in it? Was there a ration system then?” “Yes, there was! But the most interesting thing is that the thieves turned out to be decent. That very evening the wallet was tossed


away, with all the documents still in it: only the money and ration coupons were missing. I still have the wallet today It’s a beautiful black leather wallet.” “Where was it left?” “Right near the police station… it was lying on the sidewalk. He went to the police the day after he reported the theft, and they told him, ‘we have your wallet with the documents.’ That very day, he met an acquaintance from before the war who worked in the state inspection committee. ‘I know that the district finance department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs is looking for a chief of the counterrevolutionary branch,’ said the acquaintance. And this is what papa had been before the war. ‘If you want,’ the acquaintance said, ‘I can go there with you tomorrow and introduce you.’” “Who was this acquaintance?” “He lived at our entrance with his parents. He got an apartment on the second floor, like us, from Ukraine Bank. But his parents stayed in the city during the occupation. Our machine gunners were lodged in this building, and a German tank was on the street outside where this one-story house was, you know?” “Yes.” “So the tank fired, and the shells went straight into the second floor, into the room where his parents were sitting, and both were killed on the spot. This man knew papa very well. He went with him to the Ministry of Internal Affairs financial department, and papa was quickly accepted for the position. They said he would suit them well – an educated military officer who was good at his job.” “Does that mean there wasn’t any anti-semitism at the Ministry of Internal Affairs?” “There probably was just as much as everywhere else. But the thing is: if they needed someone, a specialist in his field, they didn’t pay any attention to the resumé. They checked everyone themselves, they did whatever they wanted, understand?” “Did they inspect all institutions?” “No, only those that were under the control of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. And this was an enormous empire, which had its own productive enterprises: factories… You know the factory ‘Dynamo’ – this was also their undertaking.” “Did prisoners work there?” “Not only prisoners. Civilians also worked there. The Ministry of Internal Affairs produced a variety of goods that were in demand. With their help, they contructed new factories and roads.” “And what do you remember about our lives then?” “Every morning when we left for school, our parents gave us 10 rubles. We were supposed to buy breakfast at the school cafeteria: rolls, candy. Although I don’t remember exactly – maybe those were free, and


we could buy something else of our choice. We saved money, using only five rubles instead of all 10, and spent the rest on stamps at the kiosk on the corner of Artem and Basseinaya. You could buy beautiful stamps with camels, ostriches, leopards. We bought African stamps – they were very cheap. You could buy 10 stamps for five rubles. And we had a piano at home. Every child should study music! Our parents bought an enormous black German piano dirt-cheap. It literally took up all the space in one of the rooms. They bought it in the summer of 1946, and for three months you and I studied piano with some teacher. Then we rebelled and flat-out refused to learn.” “Was the piano then dragged to the attic?” “I don’t know what they did with it. But while it was there, we did our homework on it, and since there was no dining room table, it served this purpose as well.” “You mean everyone ate on it?” “Well, not everyone, but the two of us did. The piano was stained with ink.” “And did we still have Ginzburg’s inkwell?” “Yes, but we didn’t use it. It was like a souvenir. We would demonstrate its sturdiness and unbreakability. Then we got the idea of using it as a hockey puck. Most people used them as inkwells that were attached to briefcases, and they were called non-spill bottles. And do you remember how we set up a chess tournament at home? During the winter holidays? About 25 kids from our classes participated. Everyone played each other, and it was great fun. I think one of your friends won.” “Yes, it was Edik Elkin. He’s in Germany now. And Ilyusha Gurevich finished second.” “And you and I were something like third and fourth place. We didn’t have timers, so there were no limits to how long the games could take. Everyone took the tournament very seriously. We were one grade apart. Usually this was a big deal. You didn’t make friends with kids from lower grades. But this was an exception. The two of us brought our friends together in a chess tournament. Here’s another story. There was a fellow in your fourth-grade class. I don’t remember his actual last name, but he was called Il Duce, like Mussolini. He beat you up all the time, remember? He was two years older than me, even, so four years older than you. He was called Il Duce because he was fat, huge. Naturally he wasn’t a good student. It was boring for him, and he often cut class. I remember how we taught him a lesson. Every time there was a break, you came to me and told me that Il Duce beat you up. I would jump up, rush into your classroom, and hit his mug. He was older and bigger than me, but the class monitor’s authority was so strong that he didn’t fight back; he just stood there with his hands at his sides. I’d ask him, ‘Well, are you going to stop beating up my brother?’ He wouldn’t say anything. Then I’d continue, ‘Well, will you stop?’ He muttered, ‘I’ll stop.’ But when I left, he hit you again. So the


whole thing continued, and the question was which of us would hold out longer. In the end, he gave up and left you alone. Then, in seventh grade, he got a prison sentence for being part of a gang – a long sentence. And did you know that we could see the balcony from the window of papa’s room on the third floor? He had a table opposite the window, so you could see it while you were sitting at the table. He put his table there on purpose. And in the spring, we spent all our time on the balcony. He knew he’d see us when we came home from school.” “Did he join the party in 1947?” “No. He became a candidate at the institute; a candidate’s length of service was one year. And he became a party member in Kharkov in 1946. He didn’t have any problems until 1951. The first problem came when there was a staff reduction because of the transfer of military from the Ministry of Interior Affairs to the Ministry of State Security.” “And what was his experience of the anti-cosmopolitan campaign?” “He survived this campaign without any problems.” “But I remember mama helping families of biologists who were accused of Weismannism-Morganism. I remember her giving boots to a Professor Finkelstein working in Kharkov.” “Papa’s institute wasn’t affected by this campaign. Outside the institute they might arrest someone, but inside everything was calm. So, in 1951 papa was transferred to the military construction corps, which took orders directly from the Ministry of Internal Affairs. His Kharkov office was temporary, while they were constructing the highway from Kharkov to Simferopol. When the construction was finished, the corps was transported to Northern Caucasus, but papa refused to go there, and he was sent to the Northern Urals. In 1952, he was transferred from the city of Solikamsk in the Northern Urals to the Southern Urals, a city called Asbest, near Sverdlovsk.” “Were there camps there?” “Yes, prisoners constructed the roads. Papa got very sick then. Something was wrong with his head, a consequence of the wounds, and they diagnosed him with a neuroinfection. Mama went there and brought him back to Kharkov, where papa was immediately put in the Central Neuropsychology Hospital.” “And didn’t she get sick herself on the way there?” “Yes, she caught typhus. She was treated in the Urals, and survived. Her hair completely fell out. And after his treatment, papa was sent to a commission that found him unsuitable for war service. As a result, papa went back to the Urals. He went late in the fall of 1952, and in January 1953, the famous ‘Doctor’s Plot’ affair began. On the way to Asbest, papa stopped at the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Moscow. He saw the minister himself, Kruglov, and gave him his discharge report.”


“When was that?” “In November of 1952. Kruglov told him in person to go back to his base of operations; they would look over his report and make their decision. The ‘Doctor’s Plot’ affair was already raging in full force then. Everyone was looking around, seeking those murderer-doctors. And this was when the order from Kruglov in Moscow discharging papa for illness appeared. But his colleagues decided not to let papa go so easily. They arranged a party meeting to examine papa’s conduct as a communist who evaded the fulfillment of his party duties. I found a writing pad with the notes papa took at this meeting, like a stenographic transcript. He had already been fired when the meeting took place, but not removed from the party registration. On his pad, papa recorded all the reports and comments that were made in that hall. One person said: ‘I am not an anti-Semite, comrades. But here’s what I don’t understand: what more do these Jews want? Why are they always spoiling everything?’ In short, a strict verdict was handed down and recorded on his registration card. With that, he was let go. They timed it perfectly! With this record, it was impossible to find any work in Kharkov. Nobody would hire him. It turned out that he was fired for some sort of transgression. They don’t record such a strict decision just like that.” “Had Stalin already died then?” “Yes. Our father returned to Kharkov at the end of March or early April 1953, when Stalin had already been buried. The ‘Doctor’s Plot’ affair was concluded, and everyone was rehabilitated. Papa continued to look for work, and again the army came to the rescue. Outside the city in the Kharkov Tractor Factory, a military construction batallion had been set up. The deputy director there was a cousin of papa’s prewar boss. He lived on Dzerzhinsky Street not far from us, and knew papa well. They needed a head for the finance division, and offered papa the position. He began work there, and later transferred to the civilian trust.” “And how would papa have reacted to what happened later if he were alive?” “I’ll tell you straight out: if papa were alive, he wouldn’t have let you leave. He would have been categorically opposed, and he would have done everything possible to prevent you.” “And what did he think of Khrushchev?” “He approved everything he did: improving well-being, housing construction. He liked all of this.” “And what about Stalin?” “When the party criticized Stalin, he also critized him.” “But when he worked in the Ministry of Internal Affairs, didn’t he know more than other people? Specifically, did he consider people like Tukhachevsky, who were subjected to repression, enemies of the people?”


“Yes, until the exposé of Stalin, he considered them enemies of the people. Afterwards, he stopped doing so. Our parents were absolutely devoted to Soviet power. Absolutely. If our government had not allowed itself the ugliness of anti-Semitism, they would have relied on them in everything until the end.” “What did he think of the Hungarian events?” “He had a somewhat liberal attitude toward that, but in general, he judged the Hungarians harshly for desiring, in his opinion, to bring back the old fascist order.” “And did he listen to the ‘enemy voices’ on the radio?” “He listened to them, of course. He liked to be well informed. You know, before the war, he published essays in Kharkov newspapers on questions of finance, and even a few poems.” “Have they been saved?” “No, unfortunately not. He also loved the circus. He always went there, never missing a single show.” “And what caused all his problems, ultimately?” “You have to understand, he had to start from nothing several times.” “But why exactly from nothing? Why did it happen that way?” “There was no security in life. As soon as someone got off track, he could lose everything. Life was completely unreliable. You had very little control; a lot depended on circumstances.”


PART THREE Chapter 16

The Oncology Ward The forest is a dark and scary place at night, and in the oncology ward, it’s even scarier. Once in a forest outside the city, trees were cut down, and a two-story hospital ward, resembling barracks, was built. No sense of architecture. Nothing to gladden the eye. No flowerbeds, or lawns, or fountains, or sculpture. But why should there have been? Does a person entering a cancer ward really think about any kind of beauty? Does he really look at everything around him? He looks down at his feet, at the ground covered with fresh yellow leaves. He thinks about himself, and only about himself and his fate. He wonders how much life he has left, and whether he’ll live to see the next autumn. That’s what he thinks about. Different wards have different departments, and each department has its own specific smell. In urology, it smells like urine, but not just that. The smell of urine is mixed with an odor of hot tar, which is what black disinfectant smells like. This disinfectant goes through a catheter into a patient with urinary bladder cancer. You don’t tell the patients that they have cancer. Or that they have polyps. Urinary bladder cancer actually grows like polyps, and fortunately, it grows slowly and rarely metastasizes. Urologists remove one cancer polyp, but another one soon grows in its place, like new heads on a hydra. The same patients come to the department dozens of times. Their polyps are cut out, then the black liquid is poured into them, and then they walk through the hallways with their bottles of black-crimson urine clinking, happy just to be alive. Unlike urology, where the smell is always the same, in gynecology, the sensitive nose will catch a variety of smells. Cervical cancer is treated with radiation. In the area of treatment, radiation sores form, and the odor of decaying flesh mixes with the smell of different creams, ointments, medicines, baths, and ablutions. People rarely stop by the hematology department: it’s scary! There is a curtain in the hallway, and behind it a bed, on which lies a corpse, covered from head to toe. It’s supposed to lie there for two hours.


From behind the curtain, the saccharine odor of the first stages of decomposition emanates: this is what death smells like. Tanya Sushkova, a young orderly, has a face like an actor in Chinese opera, with a layer of make-up as thick as a finger. She always cries when one of her patients dies. She stops by the orderly room to announce, sniffling, “Kolya just died.” Her make-up pours from her face in dirty-brown streams. There is a curtain in the orderly room, too, which women change clothes behind. Tanya runs behind this curtain and continues bawling and blowing her nose. She comes out again after fifteen minutes, when she’s calmed down, with her make-up restored to its former state. Tanya has been married for six years, but has no children. Without make-up, her face is dry and tired, with gray lips. The patients love her. Borya the policeman, sensing one night that he was dying, asked for her to visit him in the ward. When he was told that Tanya wasn’t on duty, he asked that she be brought from home. They sent for her, and Borya died in her presence. Some patients are discharged a few days before death, and go home. A stretcher rolls by. A patient lies on it with some of his things, and the attendant Lelya carries the rest. Everyone knows that the patient has been discharged to go home to die, and the patient, having seen enough of what goes on in the department, also knows it. The staff stand respectfully against the wall, as though on guard, as the stretcher passes. The only thing missing is music. All these occurences were taken as normal. People would withdraw into their frightening world, losing all hope and perspective. You couldn’t say that nothing at all was being done. Blood transfusions raised hemoglobins two levels; chemotherapy and radiation prolonged life. With direct blood transfusions from donor to patient, hemophiliacs were saved. And scientific work thrived. Everyone wrote dissertations. Those who were not at that stage wrote candidates’ dissertations, and those who had passed candidacy wrote doctoral dissertations. The number of male and female doctors was about the same, but it was mostly men who wrote dissertations. Tanya wasn’t the only one who was shaken by Borya the policeman’s death. Everyone was upset. Borya, who died a week before he turned twenty-three, had Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a disease of the lymph glands. He had this illness for about three years, was given radiation and chemotherapy, and lived all of these years in the department. He was like a “son of the regiment” for everyone. Everyone knew him and he knew everyone, and all the policemen who paid him a visit were good, cheerful guys. The whole department went to the funeral. An orchestra played, and the car slowly drove along Basseinaya Street to the cemetery.


After the funeral, Musya Belochkin decided to write a dissertation on Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Dissertations mainly consisted of statistical analysis of patients by age, sex, stage of the disease, and methods and effectiveness of treatment. For a dissertation to stand out from the hundreds of others on the same theme, it could also examine the function of a certain organ, or this theme could become the focus, for example: “The functions of the liver in radiation treatment for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.” Hodgkin’s lymphoma starts from the neck. The lymph node appears somewhere on the neck, on the right or left side, without any cause and often without any symptoms. In the beginning it’s about as big as a cherry, then a walnut, and it becomes more and more dense in proportion to its length. Sometimes you can feel a second node near the first, smaller but just as dense. In time, a cluster of lymph nodes, which resembles a “sack of potatoes,” develops. The patient’s temperature rises, and the whole body becomes sweaty and itchy. As a rule, things don’t develop to the point of a “sack of potatoes,” because the lymph nodes are surgically removed, a biopsy is done, and a diagnosis is made, after which the entire neck is given radiation treatment. Musya got a big surprise when he first familiarized himself with foreign literature. He knew that his Hodgkins lymphoma patients lived for three or four years on average, like Borya the policeman. But those who were treated using the method of Canadian radiologist Vera Peters on average survived ten years or longer. Vera Peters suggested raising the dosage of radiation sharply, doubling or tripling it at the primary site of the lymphoma, and in the course of the several months of the patient’s early treatment, preventive radition of areas the disease could spread to. The directed doses of radiation through the grid turned out to be many times higher than those used at Musya’s cancer ward. Musya read these journals and could not believe his eyes. After many months of radiation, the patients returned to the doctor in ten years, most often just for a check-up. “This can’t be possible!” he thought. Musya gathered a few articles and went into Natan’s office: “Did you know about this?” he asked. “Yes, I’ve heard about it,” said Natan. “How can this be? Ours live three years, and theirs survive for more than ten years?” “We can’t use this treamtent.” “Why not?” “Stop by our radiologist, Lena Kurlyanskaya. She’ll explain why.” Musya went to see Lena Kurlyanskaya, a middle-aged woman, and showed her the articles. “Have you heard of Vera Peters?” he asked. “Is she young or old?”


“She must be over eighty,” said Lena. “Her first articles came out in the 1930s.” “And what happened? Weren’t her ideas accepted here?” “Yes, they were. But they couldn’t be implemented.” “Why not?” “Because we don’t have the proper apparatus. To avoid radiation burns of the surrounding healthy tissue, the rays need to be very thin, practically a point, and the source of radiation must possess very high energy – this is ideal. This kind of apparatus only came out after the war.” “And what do we have?” “Our apparatuses are forty years old. If we give Vera Peters’s doses using them, we’ll kill the patients. They’ll die of radiation sickness.” “When will we get these apparatuses? Can we buy them?” “They are very expensive.” “Do they have them in Moscow?” “Have you seen any articles about this in Russian?” “No, I haven’t.” “That means that either there aren’t any, or they are only just being installed. By the way, it’s not just a matter of the apparatuses. We also need special premises with protection against radiation, trained personnel, multi-disciplinary specialists: radiologists, engineers, technicians, computer specialists. It would be a technological revolution!” “Well, we already had one revolution. But when will these apparatuses become available in the Soviet Union, Elena Arkadyevna?” “In ten to fifteen years – no sooner.” “Why are we always behind? We were first in outer space, the first to develop hydrogen bombs, the first to build a socialist society. We’re even first in weightlifting. But why is even a small country like Hungary ahead of us in this area?” “Musya, you are young and zealous, but I’ve lived a long time. You need to make use of what’s available. Do you want to be a lone rebel?” “I want to be able to look people in the eye. How can I do this with a person who can live for ten years or longer, when I can only give him three years with my treatment?! How can I look such a patient in the eye? This is life, Elena Arkadyevna, not theater!” Musya began to pick up his articles. “Let me hold onto them for a few days.” “Do you know English?” “It’s enough for me to see the charts and illustrations. I understand them better than you. Maybe if I look them over, I’ll be able to do something. We can’t use her suggested doses, of course, but we can modify the area of radiation. And we can apply lead protection – we have good ‘armor.’ Leave me the articles, Musya. You want to write a dissertation, correct? We have more candidates than orderlies. And just


between us, we have money set aside to build a new radiology ward. And it will have new radiation machines, of course. Maybe not the same ones they have in the West now, but still a lot more powerful than the ones we have now. By the way, the equipment will be Hungarian – how did you guess?” Musya said good-bye to Elena Arkadyevna and went upstairs to his department. “Everyone around me is calm, they do their duty,” he thought. “‘Make do with what you have,’ they say. ‘Don’t torment yourself, don’t feel guilty. Live and work like everyone else. Don’t stick your neck out. Wait and be patient. Don’t ask for trouble.’ But how can I look patients in the eye? And how do other people do it? Natan looks at everything seriously and thoughtfully from under his glasses, and you can’t tell what is going on inside him. Or Tanya Sushkova – she cries and cries, and then calms down.” Musya went to the clinic. There was one patient, a second, a third. Everything as usual. Everything according to the rules. Nothing out of the ordinary. Then a grandmother stopped by. Gray-haired. A round face. As if she had been drawn. A beautiful grandmother – clean, neat, with a warm, kind voice. Her name was Anna Zakharovna. “I didn’t come here about myself,” she said. “I have a granddaughter, Dinochka.” “How old is she?” Musya asked. “Five.” “You know, we don’t treat children here. There is a special hematology department for children.” “I know, but you were recommended to me. Dinochka has severe leukemia.” “How long has she been sick?” “For six months. She is now in remission. She has been given hormone treatment and mercaptopurine. I came to ask you what I should do. What happens if the disease is exacerbated?” “Didn’t they explain how severe leukemia progresses?” “Nobody told me anything. I only know that children die from it in the course of a year. But I heard that in the West, they survive for more than ten years.” Anna Zakharovna looked Musya in the eyes. She wasn’t crying – only looking at him. Musya felt a kind of strength in her gaze. He sensed that there was a very strong grandmother before him. Steadfast, stubborn, prepared for anything. “Let me give you a mini-lecture on this,” said Musya. “In cases of severe leukemia, remission alternates with relapses. During relapses, the drug used earlier, as a rule, no longer works. So you need to change the drug and give the patient something else. The predisposition of the new cells causing the exacerbation of the disease no longer responds to the treatment already used, since this predisposition is new. A new predisposition requires different drug. Do you understand?”


“Yes,” said Anna Zakharovna. “We have two drugs at our dispoasl: mercaptopurine and methotrexate.” “So you can use methotrexate next time the disease is exacerbated?” “Yes.” “And later on? When it intensifies again, what did you say, with a new predisposition? There’s nothing else to treat it with then, right?” Musya was silent, and didn’t look Anna Zakharovna in the eye. “Are there any other drugs?” Anna Zakharovna asked quietly. “There are. But we don’t have them.” “Where do they have them?” “In Hungary, for example, and other countries.” Musya couldn’t hold back any more. “Do you have anyone who can obtain these drugs?” “No, we don’t,” Anna Zakharovna quickly answered. “Thank you, you’ve explained everything very clearly. That’s exactly what I was told about you: that you explain everything very well, and that you’re a good man.” Next day, the orderly Lelya stopped Musya in the hallway. “A grandmother asked for you downstairs,” she said. “Gray-haired?” “Yes. Kind of chubby.” Musya went down and saw Anna Zakharovna. “Let’s go for a walk in the forest,” she said. Musya and Anna Zakharovna went to the forest. “I didn’t tell you the truth yesterday. I have a younger sister. During the war, we were evacuated to Omsk. She met a fellow there, a Polish Jew. She married him, and in 1946 she returned to Poland with him. From there, they went to America via Israel in 1956. They now live in Los Angeles.” “Do you write to them?” “Very rarely. I only send postcards on birthdays. But I’ll write to them if you tell me what drugs I need, and they’ll send them to me.” “I’ll write them down for you, Anna Zakharovna.” “Now?” “Yes. Here’s a piece of paper. I’ll put down the names, so you can write to them.” Musya wrote the names of the drugs and gave Anna Zakharovna the piece of paper. “They have children’s hematologists there. Your sister can consult with them. Write them a letter telling them the diagnosis, and what you told me.” In two months, Anna Zakharovna brought Musya a letter from her sister. Her sister went to Dr. Finkelstein, a children’s hematologist, and he promised to send the medicine for Dinochka. He found out that the medicine needed to be sent, with Dinochka’s address, in the name of the Soviet Ministry of Health, and from there, according to the chain of


command, the medicine would be sent to the Ministry of the Republic, then to the District Ministry of Health, then the City Ministry of Health, and then to the hospital where Dinochka would be treated. “So you can’t keep the medicine at home?” “No, they won’t let you. I have to indicate some kind of hospital or clinic.” “Put down our clinic. We have the right to advise children in the clinic, though we can’t put them in the hospital.” In two more months, after a conference with his staff, the head doctor of the oncology ward, Valery Evgenevich, said: “You know, we have doctors who write personal prescriptions. I repeat, personal. And where do you think they’re sending them? New York! Can you believe it? New York!” Everyone was quiet. “We need to end this practice. It’s not acceptable in our socialist society!” Doctor Iosif Pesis, after the meeting, invited Musya to his home. Iosif had only recently started working at the ward. He was polite with everyone, and gave the impression of an educated, well informed doctor. As a therapist, he served the urology, gynecology, and surgical departments. He didn’t belong to any group or coalition. He was from Kishinev, and no one knew how he wound up in the ward. He didn’t criticize his superiors, but didn’t curry favor with them, either. Musya and Iosif sat on the balcony, and Iosif’s wife, a pretty brunette, brought them freshly baked cheese pastries. “Valery Evgenevich asked me to get together with you for a chat. To be honest, I want to give you my opinion, too. You aren’t planning to deny that you wrote the prescriptions?” “No, I don’t plan to. But I didn’t write any prescriptions. I only gave a patient’s relative the names of drugs. That’s all.” “You understand, that’s good for the patient. But how will other patients who don’t have relatives in America feel about this? What can they do? We have government medicine, and we have a responsibility to the patients in the name of our country. Do you understand, Misha? Our country! We represent our country!” “What if your daughter had leukemia? Would you return the medicine and allow your daughter to die, because other people don’t have this medicine?” “You need to use what we have.” “I’ve already heard that.” “You need to take life as it is. If there is to be equality, it has to be in everything. Everyone should have equal access to medicine.” “But what if the access is of no use?” “Again, it means that access must be equal – no one gets anything in that case.” “That’s what you think?” “Yes.”


Musya felt that he couldn’t hold back anymore. He knew that everything he said now would be passed along, word for word. He sensed in himself a kind of righteousness, power, and truth that was stronger than any country, even the largest on earth. Musya felt that after everything he was about to say, there would no longer be a place for him in this country, that this was the beginning, the first real step on the path he needed to travel. “You don’t know this, Iosif,” he said. “But I flew for a consultation to the Central Committee hospital in Goloseevsky Forest, near Kiev. I was there three days, spent nights there, and saw a lot with my own eyes. You can’t imagine the conditions there: cleanliness, the floors scrubbed like the deck of a ship. All the medicine is Western, dinner with red caviar every day. The first secretary of the Crimean party regional committee personally picks apples from the trees, which were not developed chemically. There are 100 worm-eaten apples for every good one. One apple per tree gets put in a box, and goes to the first, second, and third secretary in Kiev, so they can get healthier sooner. The very newest equipment, a ward for one person with a toilet and bathtub, a whole, eight-room section for the first secretary. Even the American president doesn’t have such luxuries! Now there’s communism for you! We are only moving toward it, and they are already living it. And you talk about equality! This is nothing but utter hypocrisy! People want to live! They want their children to live! The other day I heard a telephone conversation between Natan and the mother of one of his patients. The mother called, sobbed, and pleaded with Natan to extend the life of her son by a day or two, or a week. And her son had already gone through the hell of chemotherapy, he had already lost all his hair and vision, and was paralyzed on his left side. Someone else, on the other hand, would have wanted an end to this hell, this torture. And she, the mother, asked for this frightful life to be extended, to see her child before her, to hold his hand, to stroke his hairless little head, just to touch him while he was alive… We have no answer for her, we can’t say a single word of comfort. And what kind of comfort could there be for this mother? Only after Natan hung up did he tell me what he wanted to tell the mother, but couldn’t… ‘Love doesn’t end with death,’ he said softly.” Musya took a deep breath and stood up. “You can tell Valery Evgenevich that I’ll give notice tomorrow.”


Chapter 17 Luisa

I met her when she was seventeen. And I was the same age. We first-year students were gathered on August 31, the day before classes began, in a large auditorium of the anatomical section of an old three-story building, which was called the anatomka. An autopsy table stood below us in the middle, like the center of a circle. And from this center, as from the arena in a circus, a row of chairs with backs made of dark-brown wood rose in the form of an amphitheater. Behind the backs of the chairs were desks for those sitting in the next row. In spite of the almost festive excitement reigning in the hall, I felt somehow sad. Maybe it was because of the abundance of unfamiliar faces with their healthy country tan. Or maybe it was the necessary, unavoidable changes in life. I understood that I needed to leave behind my past, friends, and childhood that had ended with graduation. I felt as though I were trapped, exhausted like a beast in a cage, looking around in all directions but not finding support from anyone. My gaze listlessly and almost automatically wandered along the girls’ faces, not singling out or stopping on any of them. There was a reason for this. Although my three-year relationship with Alina had for all practical purposes ended after our graduation, it turned out that my closest friend was in the same group as her in the Polytechnic Institute. A newly emerged Iago, he derived a kind of sadistic pleasure in telling me about her every move, and especially her relations with the male sex. Lyova had hated Alina from the time I began seeing her. She often told him over the phone that I wasn’t there, although in fact I was. And she would lie right to his face when he came over, repeating the same thing, although my boots lay on the floor of the hallway, and my coat was hanging on the coat rack. Lyova would leave, unable to bear my betrayal. And now he took revenge on both of us, perhaps unconsciously, testing my strength. And like an alcoholic reaching for the next glass, I peppered him with question after question, even asking if she were pregnant. So I sat in the hall, disappointed, depressed, and devastated. And all of this was probably reflected on my face and in my gaze. I didn’t know at the time that in the same auditorium, somewhere opposite me, there was another soul, lively, kind, meek, searching, and open to the whole world. Luisa chose me from among all the other boys, fixing her gaze on my sad face. Early in life the world is a series of happy accidents and disappointments. At the end of the meeting, the assistant dean read a list of all the students in our class. 228 students were divided into 22 groups,


and I wound up in the same group as Luisa, and Alina was in the same group as my friend Lyova. On September 2, we were sent to a kolkhoz. The village of Bairak was about 60 miles from Kharkov. Luisa, her friend Lera and I were in the same hut, where a woman and her son lived. The landlady, a woman of about thirty who seemed like an old lady to me, slept on the stove with her seven-year-old son. The girls slept in the bed, and I slept near them on the floor. I saw open, undisguised, overwhelming poverty in this house. I don’t even remember the woman ever speaking with us. The darkness of her life was reflected in everything: the churchlike semidarkness of the home, the emptiness and desolation of the only room, the landlady’s dull eyes, and her sighs that could be heard from the stove. Goats walked along our street, an accordion played in someone’s house, and dogs barked for days on end in the village. Dust filled the air during the day, obscuring the moon and the starry sky, and a song blared from a loudspeaker on the dance square in front of the club: “Mishka, Mishka, where’s your smile, full of ardor, full of fire? Mishka, you are so unkind, departing, leaving me behind.” Luisa was a good dancer. I held her by the waist, and her viscose scarf came unwound in the wind. After dancing, a big group of us walked along the field past a deep ravine. The full moon was high and stars shone in the sky, winking at us, and we sang in chorus: “Golden stars shine in the sky, but the beauty of your eyes, is brighter than the stars up high, my love alone can have such eyes.” One morning a neighbor’s cart rumbled past our hut. This neighbor had a garden. Its apple trees were heavy with ripened fruit. Luisa and I climbed into the garden, picked apples, and stuffed them in our shirts and tights. Lera stood guard at the gate but left without waiting for us, recalling that she had a garden of her own at home in Krasnokutsk. The next day, the neighbor noticed the missing apples and complained to our group leader, suspecting one of the students. The inquiry came to nothing and the whole business was hushed up. Lera, overcoming her instincts as a private owner, didn’t tell anyone about our little excursion. Nevertheless, Goryunov, our group leader, decided to separate me from the girls. I spent several nights in the shed with Tolka Kislichenko, who was like a healthy bull, a weightlifter wth enormous biceps. We slept next to each other on a plank bed. Every night he leaned on me with his whole carcass, snoring and twitching in his sleep. I would wake up in a fright, push him away with my arms and legs, and yell out: “Tolya, Tolya, wake up!” Without waking up, he would roll off me, turn onto his side, and continue snoring. When he woke up in the morning, he never remembered anything. I went to Goryunov and said, “Maxim Maximych, please put me back with the girls. If you don’t do this, one fine morning you’ll find a bloody pancake in my place!” Goryunov empathized with me.


The girls wore long linen nightshirts at night, and chased me outside when they changed into them. There, I would look at the sky, listening to the sounds of an accordion while they washed in a basin. I brought water on a yoke from a nearby well. There were four wells in total outside. In the morning I washed in the same basin. The girls poured water over me from a pitcher. Within Luisa’s pale features, her gray eyes were distinguished by a sense of depth and inner strength. She had a slightly hooked nose and clearly outlined, thin, sensual lips. She was very thin, but slender and light, and you could especially feel this when you danced with her. Her hair was blond and straight, with a small pigtail. Lera had very expressive facial features, but she seemed coarse and vulgar to me. We returned to Kharkov already shaped into a kolkhoz “troika.” Our group monitor, Yura Borusik, the son of a well-known Kharkov gynecologist, became the ringleader. The girls went to the stadium and opened their suitcases before physical education started, to put on their gym outfit and sneakers. Suddenly they began squealing and wriggling, threw away their suitcases and ran in different directions. In every suitcase, under the T-shirts and shorts, lay replicas of male sex organs. Borusik had hidden these in every single girl’s suitcase – so as not to offend anyone – while we were all leaving the anatomy department to go to the stadium. Borusik had a motorcycle, which we called “Erection.” Yura and I started writing a “novel” by this title, in imitation of Il’f and Petrov. The characters of the novel were boys and girls from our group. I remembeer how it began: “Kirill Bezdetko, son of a White Guard colonel, raced along the highway from Moscow to Simferopol, constructed by wartime prisoners, on his Erection. A rubber goods salesgirl from Drugstore no. 1 on Sumskaya Street, the bright blonde Luisa Svetozarova, sat behind him, hair blowing in the wind.” Then Yura came up with a motor scooter, “Tula,” and I made up a red motorcycle, “Yava.” Yura on his “Tula” with Tanya Papandapoulou, and I on my motorcycle with the rubber goods salesgirl, set out for the forest to gather mushrooms. Yura had a phenomenal capacity to spot mushrooms while riding his motor scooter. We got into the thick of the forest, maneuvering between bushes and trees, hitting holes and climbing over knolls, making our way through brushwood and scratching ourselves on branches. Yura, seeing a mushroom, would brake sharply. Tanya Papandapoulou barely stayed in her seat, and sometimes she did fall, but as a rule, everything turned out well. We returned with mushrooms, scratched and cut by branches, to Yura’s. He threw the mushrooms into a pan, and then we danced to the radio-gramophone: “So many yellowed sheets have been saved. As if you returned and were with me again.” At that time, group acrobatic performances were very popular. Boys and girls in shorts and T-shirts composed pyramids. We ran out onto the stage, usually from both sides, to piano accompaniment. The bigger, stronger boys formed the base of the pyramid, and those who


were lighter stood on them. Luisa, as the lightest of all, was usually at the very top. Then everyone, starting from the top, jumped to the floor and ran off the stage to the music. My relationship with Luisa was somewhat ambivalent. We were often together among other people, and everyone got used to this. But when we were alone, neither she nor I made any attempt to become physically close, and there were no declarations of love, no appraisals, no nagging – just the opposite. We often argued, and generally it was Luisa who initiated these arguments. I didn’t feel bound by any compulsion, and in general I felt free, though a vacuum seemed to have formed around me. Once I invited a girl named Zhenya to ride a bicycle with me. Afterwards she immediately had some problems. The komsomol bureau Lera attended accused the poor girl of forging a teacher’s signature in a gradebook. Zhenya defended herself with difficulty against these absurd charges. Luisa and Lera sat a row behind me in class. Their position was very advantageous in that they could easily follow every movement of my head. Wherever I turned my head, their glances followed. The female contingent of this suspicious part of the auditorium carefully studied and took note of everything. After the incident with Zhenya, the girls in the class started to avoid me, fearing possible retribution. But this didn’t concern me very much. My relations with Luisa gave me a feeling of something new, something unusual that was very different from what I’d had earlier with Alina. Luisa came into my life from a completely different world, one that wasn’t ruled by calculation, or acute intellectuality, or what was carefully thought out and planned, where each day begins with thoughts of what you were and weren’t able to get done, and what you needed to do today. Luisa’s day began simply, just as it should: with the morning dawn, sunrise, dew on the grass, opening of flowers, myriad barely distinguishable smells, fresh water from the well, birds singing, ducks quacking, with rustling, buzzing, chirping, twittering, and splashing. Luisa came into my life from the world of nature, of the earth. She grew up in this world, and she knew what it was like to breathe in a chestful of pure, tingling air. She knew that it had always been this way, and always would: with a constant and unchanging flow of nature and everything in existence, with an ineradicable and invariable rhythm of eternal transformation. She knew that the earth lived and breathed, and that nature didn’t lie or flatter, didn’t betray or hide anything, that it was simple and open, accessible and vulnerable. A tart and drunken essence of life-creating natural juices, soaked up from birth, sparkled and percolated in Luisa’s soul. A rooster pecked at Luisa’s forehead when she was a child. Three people sat with her and took care of her: her mother, her aunt (the mother’s sister) and her husband. Her father was like the ghost that


appears to Hamlet: it was uncertain whether he was there or not. There was a military unit – a regiment or a division – in Vystosk. Georgy Svetozarov was an artilleryman. I never saw a single photograph of him at Luisa’s. Maybe there were no photographers in Vysotsk? Luisa had her father’s patronymic and last name – Luisa Georgievna Svetozarova – and her mother’s nose, only slightly less hooked. Luisa always carried a little book with her. Up to pg. 53 of this documentary tale, the hero was Georgy Kuzmich Svetozarov, artilleryman and editor of the division newspaper. The Panfilov division from Kazakhstan was transferred to Moscow’s defense. On October 16, 1941, the Germans could already see Moscow through their binoculars. On that day, the most frightening day of the war, Stalin walked along the platform where a train was about to start, and thought over whether to leave Moscow or stay. He paced for a few hours and thought. There was nobody to defend Moscow, and nothing to defend it with, but Stalin decided to stay. And Georgy and his comrades fired on the German tanks from 45-millimeter cannons that whole day. The Germans approached in waves, straight on and roundabout. They encircled him. Georgy knocked out a tank coming toward him from in front. He knocked out the last one, but another German tank with a cannon crushed him from behind. And that’s how on page 53, Luisa’s father’s life ended. As the daughter of a fallen frontline soldier, Luisa was given free rolls and milk at school, and her mother received a food certificate and a pension of 18 rubles a month. When Vysotsk was occupied, Germans were quartered at their home. The house was durable, made of stone. A firebomb fell on the school across from them, and it burned down. The Germans lived in their house, but the four servants in the shed went into the basement during the bombing. The Germans gave candy to the blond curly-haired Luisa, maybe because she reminded them of the light-haired “kinder” they had left with their wives in the fatherland. There was a gallows in the center of the city with hanged partisans. But all the Jews had been taken beyond the city to Sosnovyi Bor, and they were never seen again; it was said that they were all shot. Luisa’s obstetrician-gynecologist, Tukhman, was killed along with everyone else. Luisa’s stories made a strong impression on me. It turned out that she had lived through bombings and experienced all the hardships of war, whereas I had been very far from the front, tending a sheep and eating canteloupes. And it also turned out that her father had died a hero, while mine had survived. I realized that there were many reasons to feel sorry for Luisa, but not for me. And I did feel sorry for her. I was proud to be friends with a girl whose father had died so heroically, and about whom a book had been written. In the summer, Luisa went to Vysotsk, and I went to Feodosia with my parents, older brother, and two friends.


I sat on the beach with my friends, fiddling with pebbles and tossing them in the ocean: “And I throw pebbles from a steep little bank from faraway La Perouse Strait.” My friends invited me to go dancing, but I didn’t want to. They pointed to girls in swimsuits, evaluating three of their qualities using the five-point grading system, but I simply gazed at the blue sky and water. My feelings were vague. I was calm and even-tempered, like the sea. But there was something missing, though I myself didn’t know what it was. I didn’t even notice any particular change in myself, until one overcast rainy day, when there was nothing to do on the beach, some simple, primitive and melancholy poems came into my head. “I have them, here they are,” “Where are you, loving heart, where are you, loving heart? Have you vanished into noisy cities, or into a quiet forest? Or are you alone in the deep, dark night, with no one to whisper warm, quiet words...?” At the end of August, I returned to Kharkov, and we were sent to the state farm, very near the city, a half hour away by train. From the station to the state farm it was about two miles along a country road. Luisa and I worked on a threshing floor, which was piled high with grain. There was a threshing machine, and a conveyer nearby. We raked grain into the conveyer. It rose along a rubber conveyer belt, and then fell below, sprinkled on the pile of grain. There was a lot of dust. We moved around on the threshing floor every day, looking at each other: I at Luisa, and Luisa at me. We worked from 8:00 in the morning to 8:00 in the evening, because it was a “hectic time.” I don’t remember what I was wearing, but I remember what Luisa wore very well: a gray velvet jacket, a rayon kerchief, and also gray pants. She was entirely gray, angular, thin, skinny, and… and what? Well, what can I say… she was very natural, earthy, unpretentious, unspoiled and, the main thing, for all these reasons and maybe some others, different from everyone else. This precisely was the main thing for me, whether I was conscious of it or not: that she was different from everyone else. After work, we all went home. Luisa spent the night with the girls, and I with the guys. I slept in the big room of a small house with little windows, in the corner on an armful of hay. Vaysa Zubko also slept on hay in another corner. One night I had a sleepwalking episode. Around two at night, I got up in my sleep and went to the window. I dreamed of a horse. I could see its brown croup before me. I felt the need to mount the horse. I raised my hands to climb onto it. My hands scraped the window, and I pushed against the glass with my head. Vasya held a lit candle to my nose: “Musya, Musya, wake up, wake up!” He held me carefully, led me away from the window, and eventually lay me back down. The most interesting thing was that that very night, I got up and went to the window again. Maybe there was a full moon, and it drew me, called to me. Vasya was on the alert this time, and again guided me back to bed. I didn’t get up again.


They started showing the film Different Fortunes in the city. Everyone talked about this film, which was the first to portray both a wife and a mistress, a fiery brunette. They said that we had never had such a film, with adultery shown directly. The hero was an elderly composer with an elderly wife. The lover, like a panther with enormous eyes, stole the composer from his wife. To earn a day at the movies, Luisa and I spent the whole night threshing by the light of a weak lantern. The stars seemed very near, and looked as if they were conspiring with each other. The grain flew straight to the stars, high, high up from the thresher’s moving band and, describing an arc, flew back down. We took the first train to the city. Sitting in the theater, we were happy that we made it there, and were drinking in the marvelous song of the weak, silent composer, lost in his feelings and morally unstable: “How my gray hair fears your locks. You seem even younger when I am near. We can’t rejoice in our meetings; we have different fortunes. You are my last love, my last torment.” We returned to the train station toward evening. Getting off the train, we walked along the field. There wasn’t a soul around. Full-grown cornstalks stood on both sides of the road. Luisa was wearing a little crepe georgette dress with short sleeves. We walked quietly in silence. Suddenly and without warning, I grabbed Luisa and pressed her to myself, trying to kiss her on the lips. Luisa pushed against my chest with her sharp elbows. We struggled for a while, and in the skirmish I managed to find her lips. Although her resistance had weakened a little by this time, she didn’t respond to my kiss. Panting from the struggle, we walked on. I was silent, and so was she. When we returned to Kharkov, everyone noticed that a new couple had come into being. Luisa’s lips were soft and gentle. We kissed and, as they said in those days, necked at her entranceway, where there was a big window with a very wide sill. Luisa started to dye her hair, making it bright ash blond with two curled locks on the sides. The light application of mascara to her eyebrows and lashes completely changed her facial appearance. Her eyes became deep and expressive, and she looked truly beautiful. Nothing, almost nothing remained of the former country girl. Following in the footsteps of her mother, Luisa sewed everything herself. Everything flattered her figure, and she looked like the most stylish, fashionable, and elegant girl in our class. The other girls envied her. All of Vysotsk was on Luisa’s side. Her mother worked untiringly, sewing day and night. Her aunt worked just as intensively in the yard and vegetable garden, selling the leftover fruits of the earth at a bazaar. And her uncle, her aunt’s husband, brought home everything he could find from the “Sosnovyi bor” sanitorium, where he worked as a chef.


Luisa was a wonderful dancer. Nobody danced better than her. The rhumba and rock and roll were in fashion then. She was light as a feather, and you could pull off any moves you wanted! Enormous Oleg Butenko tossed her up, down, and to the side, squeezing her through his legs and lifting her over his head. Everyone yelped with delight. At parties, Luisa played Chopin’s tenth waltz. She was in a black dress with a white cape like a sailor’s jacket, and matching white cuffs. In the first days of June, the linden trees began to bloom in Kharkov. A tart, intoxicating smell filled the streets. Tanya Papandapoulou’s house was on Sumskaya Street, where there were the most lindens. Her room was in the basement. Two windows opened onto the courtyard. The windows, as in all basements, were below ground level, and the light in her room was always on. Tanya gave us a key to the apartment. Everyone went to the psychiatry class, and Luisa and I went to Tanya’s basement. We had about two hours, because there was a lecture after psychiatry that we could not miss. Everything that happened between us there was new and unexpected for me. I shouted, and Luisa reacted calmly to everything. Of course I had read and heard about the consequences for girls the first time, but it was as if nothing I read or heard happened. It didn’t worry or concern me: we were both twenty years old. Our physical closeness did not change our relations much. We had been together before, and continued to be together afterwards. But we started bringing provisions from Vysotsk more often. Her aunt brought a ham, gray with pink streaks, juicy and spicy, that melted in the mouth. The ham had an incredible smell that quickly caused you to salivate, like Pavlov’s dogs. It wasn’t just the smell of garlic or onion, but some kind of mixture, a scale, a symphony of fluids, acting on the necessary receptors. Luisa cut the ham into small slices and put them on bread, making open-faced sandwiches. It was so tasty that you could eat the ham even if you had no teeth! Then we had tea and cookies. In the summer, Luisa invited me and my school friend Senya Ovcharkin to Vysotsk. We went there on my motorcycle. Senya lived in the same building as me. I’d known him since second grade. He was cheerful and very curious. In fifth grade, when his parents weren’t home, Senya invited about six of us over. We settled in, some in chairs, some on the floor in the corners near the wall. Senya brought a male and female cat from the kitchen and said he would show us a French battle. He tried to put the tomcat on the female, encouraging them with tender words, but nothing happened. The cats were clearly shy in front of us. Senya began sweating, finally gave up, and brought the “warriors” back to the kitchen. When he returned, he simply said: “Did you know that cats give birth through their mouths?” Most of the guys didn’t know this, and they took Senya’s announcement on faith and completely seriously. But I had my doubts and asked him how he knew this. He said, “I saw it myself.” And he began to show us how it happened, lifting his hands to his mouth:


“Here’s how they do it!” This still didn’t convince me. I was always a theorist, in every case more of a theorist than a practitioner. I had another friend whose father was a children’s surgeon. They had a deaf house servant, Demyanovna. She was completely deaf: she didn’t even hear when we broke the glass on a bookcase while playing soccer in the enormous apartment. When she went out for milk and bread, we opened up anatomy books and we looked and looked and looked at them… We often looked at different textbooks, because nothing interested us as much as the secret of birth. And we figured everything out. I told Senya and the other guys that we were all mammals, and cats were too, so it was impossible for people to give birth one way and cats another way. It just couldn’t be. “But I saw it myself!” insisted Senya Ovcharkin. But when we rode to Luisa’s on my motorcycle, he was already a completely different person. We were immediately given lunch on the veranda. Ukrainian buns were the highlight of the menu: they were so small, round, pink, from pure dough in measurements twice as big as a ping pong ball. They were served instead of bread as the first course. We dipped them in sauce with thinly sliced garlic. They went wonderfully with the borscht, which was swimming with chunks of tender meat. We were treated to cherry liquer, ignoring the rules: white with fish, red with dessert. The hell with these rules, this etiquette! After the borscht we ate roast pork, with potatoes that melted in your mouth, and Senya had no time to wipe his. Then there were cherry dumplings, potato dumplings with fried onions, rosy cheese pastries, pies with onion and egg, and for dessert, custard pastries, sweet pretzels, and fruit. Feeling drowsy, we all went to the veranda to drink tea with lumps of sugar between our teeth. After lunch, Senya and the servants sat down to play fools. The next morning, leaving Senya at home, Luisa and I went by motorcycle to Lubny, where we were supposed to undertake our practical training in a month. We drove along country roads, raising clouds of dust and frightening the chickens on the farms. We went through Gogol’s Dikanka with its pussy willows and poplars, its neat huts, gates, fences, and its neglected stakes, covered with sill, on which frogs croaked. Dogs followed us, barking happily. I composed a poem right there on the motorcycle. Without it, I probably wouldn’t have remembered the trip: The sunset gorgeous through the land, The fading colors in the sky, Ukraine, my native motherland, No one loves you more than I.


I see you in the setting sun, And in the brilliant moon above, And in the ringing air, And wondrous quiet that I love. You’re covered in forests and fields around, The lowlands cool and dark as night. Ukraine, my native motherland, No one loves you more than I. No matter where I lose my way, Or where I fall from way up high, I’ll come back to my native land, I’ll come back to this land to die. In our sixth year of medical school, on March 8, International Women’s Day, Luisa and I registered our marriage, and in January, we had a son, Sasha. In the first year of Sasha’s life, Luisa’s aunt and uncle died, and their house was taken by Vysotsk relatives. Everything was lost. We lived in a tiny room in a construction workers’ dormitory. Luisa and I slept on a couch, and the crib was near the window, from which you could see a big pipe, and Luisa’s mother slept on a cot nearby. A little table stood in the corner, and we ironed the baby’s diapers on it; we ate from it, too. Our two doctor’s salaries were barely enough for food. Luisa didn’t have enough milk, and I went to a woman on Kholodnaya Gora for breastmilk. On Saturdays I went by trolley to Blagoveshchensky Bazaar with my mother-in-law. We bought chicken gizzards for the baby for one ruble, and for the grown-ups, chicken legs and wings and two pounds of ground beef. We needed to fish out some chicken bits from our soup, and for the second course we ate buckwheat with cutlets. Most of the time, I ate at my mother’s. Our room was one of five in the apartment, which had a toilet and bath. Young people lived in the other four rooms: construction workers, all from villages, four to a room. In the bathroom, they stood at the sink without taking off their shoes or boots, which were always covered in dirt. I enjoyed fatherhood. Sasha was rosy with a large forehead, like a little bun. We went sledding with him on Pavlovo Field, from the peak to the bottom. I went to English classes two evenings a week. There were young, good-looking guys and girls there. I had studied German in school and at the institute, but I really liked English. “To be or not to be? That is the question!” Luisa also went to classes, but for German, because she


liked it better than English. After two months, she could recite Goethe’s “The Traveler’s Night Song”: Der du von dem Himmel bist, Alles Lied und Schmerzen stillest, Den, der doppelt elend ist, Doppelt mit Erquickung fullest, Ach, ich bin des Treibens mude! Was soll all der Schmerz und Lust Susser Friede, Komm, ach komm in meine Brust! I liked one of the girls in my class, although she was married. Lina was calm and even-tempered, ironic and free of neurosis. She had a straight nose and intelligent brown eyes. She was the best student in the class, and immediately attracted everyone’s attention. When her husband went on a business trip, Lina invited all of us to her home. It was fun and lively. She lived near us, and we returned from classes together. I liked Lina, but at the time I only loved Blok. I was mad about him. The first three blue volumes of the eight-volume edition of his collected works, the volumes with his lyric poetry, had just been published. I took them with me to class. While the teacher was explaining the past perfect to us, I was drinking in his divine lyrics: All is fleeting, all is mortal You’re buried in the centuries. You sleep like a baby, Ravenna, In the drowsy arms of eternity. The teacher, Izya stood at the chalkboard, giving examples, the boys and girls leaned over their notebooks, and these marvelous, magical lines bewitched me and drove me out of my mind. I became completely separate from the rest of the class, and madly envied Blok: “He was there,” I thought. “He wandered the little streets of the little city that was abandoned by God! He stood by Dante’s burial vault!” The magical poems He wrote brightly, vividly outlined pure, strict pictures of an unknown world to me. Our classroom swam before my eyes. Everything was clouded over with a foggy haze, and I didn’t need to close my eyes to imagine myself in Blok’s Ravenna. It was as though I were born again, separated from someone who merely read, and transformed into someone who dreamed and daydreamed. In those minutes, I made a vow to see new worlds, new countries and cities, as fantastic and extraordinary as Ravenna. One day I was walking home from class with Lina. It was about 10:00 in the evening. Luisa was coming toward us. When she drew even, she slapped me in the face and kept going, disappearing into the darkness. After this, Luisa shut herself up, and I ran to my mother for


instructions and advice. I wrote poems to Lina in imitation of Blok, and tried to outdo him in the power and strength of my confessions and pleas: When life becomes unbearable And I want you while awake, Will you come??! Will you come??! Will you come??! I will phone you!! I will call you!! And in my descriptions of life with Luisa, completely different motifs and rhythms dominated: Life is a wife and a mother-in-law, An early bedtime and an earlier rise, Life was such a blessing before, But now it’s faded in my eyes. And another: My burden was so heavy and severe, I dragged it, strained and cried, You didn’t hear my equine shriek, And so no one replied. Grateful clients gave me cognac as gifts. My mother collected them and brought them one by one to a little basement shop, where the only salesman in the store bought them for one or two rubles below their value. With the money I collected from these sales I went to Moscow. Train no. 20 left at 10:40 in the evening from the first platform of Southern Station in Kharkov and arrived at Kursk Station in Moscow at 7:35 in the morning. I spent the entire day at Iosif Abramovich Kassirsky’s clinic, followed him on his rounds, and attended his lectures. That very evening I took a train home to Kharkov. I shared everything I had heard and learned that day in our oncology ward. Luisa never went to Moscow with me. Not once. She thought it was pointless to take a trip for just one day. We diverged in other ways, too. For instance, I liked Mandelstam: The artist painted it for us The lilacs in their deepest swoon… But Luisa worshipped Bunin:


The petals of open lips, moist like children’s Have grown cold – And the hall swims and swims in the prolonged Songs of happiness and melancholy. The shining chandeliers and rippling mirrors Merge into one crystal mirage – And the wind of the ballroom blows and blows With the warmth of fragrant fans. I threw myself into Camus and Kafka, while Luisa preferred Galsworthy and Roger Martin du Gard. I also discovered Bulgakov, Babel, and Platonov, but Luisa liked Turgenev, Tolstoy, and Chekhov better. I wrote poetry, and she did not. I was impressed by risk and the unknown, innovation, reverie, and romanticism, but Luisa – like most women, of course – prized solidity and reliability. I was Jewish, and Luisa was Russian. I went to bed and woke up knowing that I was Jewish. Luisa fell asleep easily, without any such burden, and woke up with the alarm clock. But despite all of this, Luisa loved me. She wanted a second child. Ten years after Sasha, she gave birth to Tanya. When Luisa came home from the maternity ward, she fell to my feet and begged me to register our daughter as Russian, and to give her Luisa’s last name. “You see what’s going on around us!” she said. I did see it. I felt insulted, ashamed, and bitter. It turned out just like the joke, “Everything’s fine at home, except our papa’s Jewish.” And I gave in. Tanya was registered as Svetozarova, and Russian. When Luisa fell begging at my feet, I already understand what she did not know yet. I knew, I felt that soon our destinies would change so that all of this would have no meaning, like Tanya’s birth certificate. Right at this time, an episode took place that spurred future changes in my life. They named a new head physician at the oncology ward where I worked, giving him the task of establishing order, a “new” order. They scheduled an administrative staff meeting, and invited all the department heads. Our supervisor was sick, and I went in his place. About 50 people crowded into the room, including nurses, monitors, chauffeurs, stokers, and other staff members. The new head physician considered his role in maintaining order extremely important, and he was right. That day the New Boss selected surgical department supervisor Gennady Ilyich List, a handsome man who wore three kinds of cologne and appealed to women of all subunits, as his next victim. He was a


former frontline soldier, and also a Jew. In general, there were many Jews in the oncology ward, just as there used to be in the Kremlin. The New One began by saying that List’s department was dirty, very dirty. Of course, all the departments were dirty. Dirt and stench were an integral part of the buildings, which had been constructed long ago. The rooms were poorly ventilated, crowded, and overfilled – each ward had up to six people. Then the New Boss said that List took bribes from patients in exchange for surgery, and added that he was an extortionist who never operated on anyone without compensation. Well, that was too much! The moon was more likely to fall to the earth than for surgeons to stop taking bribes for operations! List turned red as a beet, but was silent. The New Boss was a little less than half his age, with a round, fat mug. “Why is List tolerating all this abuse?” flashed through my mind. “By abusing him, the head physician is abusing all of us, and me, me as well…” The next second, right in the middle of this Gauleiter’s next tirade, I banged my fist on the table and shouted: “Fire me! Fire me right now!!!” Everyone froze the way they do in Gogol’s comedy, when the real inspector’s arrival is announced. Not waiting for the New Boss’s reaction and leaving him standing there open-mouthed, I got up and left the room, slamming the door behind me. Right away I ran to his secretary and left a statement that I was quitting. Luisa was about to give birth in two weeks. With my discharge, I lost the chance for any work in my specialty. In a month I got a job in a student clinic – for me this was hitting rock bottom. A completely new life began. When Tanya was a year and a half, I bought her a seat on my bicycle for three rubles. Tanya sat on it, and I held onto her on both sides. We rode through the forest to Piatykhatky. When we got to the end of the forest, a field sown with buckwheat appeared in front of us. I got off the bicycle, and we went into the buckwheat. I lay face-up on the ground. The sun was above me and Tanya sat on my belly. Her braids loosened around her head, and she took one of them off and ran it along my face. It was inexpressible bliss.

Chapter 18

A Confrontation Musya Belochkin loved Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, and Mozart. But they just weren’t enough for him. He started going on send-offs every night, too. Where? To whom? And what for? He went to the railroad station. To people he didn’t know, or barely knew at all, or perhaps had only heard about: “Petya Vodovoz? A pediatrician? No, I’ve never met him.”


“Come anyway. Around 10:00. There will be two buses.” “How many escorts will there be? And what kind of buses? Buses with regular routes?” “No, they make special arrangements with the motor fleet in Zhuravlevka. Do you know how much baggage there will be?” “No, how much?” “There will be 50 pieces: suitcases, trunks, boxes, bicycles. You’ll also help carry something.” “And when will the departure be?” “2:00 at night. But you need to get there three hours earlier, while they are loading, and all the rest. You’ll see for yourself.” “And how will we get back home?” “The same buses will bring you back.” “They’ll wait three hours?” “Yes. That’s what they’re being paid for. They’re being paid for everything.” “And have you ever escorted anyone before?” “Yes, several families.” “And where did Petya decide to go?” “To Canada.” Everything was just as Moshkovich had said. They packed their things, had a bite to eat, and then loaded themselves onto buses and left. All the baggage was numbered and distributed among the escorts. Musya was given no. 16, a medium-sized trunk bound with straps. The buses pulled up to the central entrance of the railroad station. Peddlers were sleeping on the floor of the hall. It was very well lit. Musya glanced at a bright mural that took up the whole ceiling. There was a cupola, as in a church, with round-faced kolkhoz girls on the background of a blue sky carrying sheafs of wheat, with their braided hair blowing in the wind. A suntanned blacksmith with a sledgehammer, which he raised over a burning hot bar of steel, looked at them. The whole crowd went through the hall to the platform. Then they turned right, in the direction of Moscow, and went to the end of the platform. Someone commanded: “Jump below and go forward!” Cries were heard: “It’s dark here! I can’t see anything!” “Don’t worry – it’s only a couple of feet! Jump!” Everyone started taking turns jumping to the pavement. Petin’s grandmother was helped down. It was indeed very dark. Somewhere far off lights were flickering. Along the way, locomotives and handcars were rushing about: tu-tu-tu, chokh-chokh-chokh. It was scary and even a little terrifying. Somewhere the clatter of railroad switches could be heard. If you made a mistake, you’d be crushed like Anna Karenina! Along with the toots you could also hear whistles, and something rang out and


rumbled with a screech: boom-boom, boom-boom, zh-zhzh-zh-zhzh-zhzhzh. The station was in the midst of its usual night routine. A ray of light occasionally sparkled in the darkness, picking out figures rushing about in the darkness. It was a long way to go. “Everyone stop!” another command was heard. Everyone stopped. An outline of a traincar appeared in the gloom. Nobody was around – no armed escort or guards. Everyone moved closer. A woman started down the steps of the traincar. This was the conductor. Petya moved forward. They began checking tickets. Everyone was silent. The conductor checked the tickets without any expression. The full moon shone, but its light was insufficient. The conductor turned on a flashlight. The traincar was currentless and dark. “You can load your things,” said the conductor. Everyone began to climb up the steps with their luggage. People were puffing and groaning, but they climbed up, pushing their trunks, suitcases, and boxes ahead of them. Petya’s grandmother dragged four of them. The luggage was blocking each of the compartments, throwing everything in the darkness into disorder. Marshak’s poetry whirled in Musya’s head. A lady put her things in luggage: A couch, a suitcase, traveling baggage, A basket, picture, carton, Even a little dog went in. When everyone had left, the conductor put the whistle to her mouth and blew it loudly: “Everyone please disperse. The towing will begin now.” Those seeing people off went back to the opposite side of the road. Musya asked Gera Moshkovich: “What does towing mean?” “A switch engine will pull up and tow the car to the train. “How do you know that?” “I accompanied people to Chop. Have you handed in your documents yet?” “No.” “Are you trying to persuade your wife or your mother-in-law? Or have you not made up your mind yourself yet?” “I’m trying to persuade my wife.” Musya lied and told the truth at the same time. Almost the truth. He lied about his wife – he still hadn’t started trying to persuade Luisa. Of course, she knew what he was doing at night. She was a wife, after all.


He understood how he needed to approach the business. He was at the bottom. Nobody would lift him up from here anymore. And nobody knew that he didn’t even have any desire to come to the surface. He only pretended that he wanted to. He called one person, talked with another. Musya didn’t want to humble himself, even though this is a widespread motif in Russian classics. He suffered terribly when his boss, Natan, was humiliated. Natan had cow eyes. He himself was small, but his eyes were large, intelligent, and sad. He was the first hematologist in the city. His eyes were intelligent, because he was. He was taken from Gudarenko’s department as a young researcher, and was promised that he would be given the rank of head in two months. Musya stopped by Natan’s office, opened the door a bit, and peered through the crack. Natan sat in a medium-sized room together with other young researchers who all still seemed to be boys. He was sitting there, hanging his head. Musya gave him a sign – let’s step out for a bit and chat. But Natan indicated with his eyes that he could not step out, that he was no longer a free man. Later, Natan wasn’t given the promised senior researcher colleague. He left and started to wander to different hospitals. After all, he had done well there, he had no problems, everyone respected him. Why did he need to be connected with them, to be humiliated? He understood why – he had those kinds of eyes! So it was better to stay at the bottom, like a sparrow, and not chirp. Just sit there without chirping… The bus with the passengers seeing people off drove along the night streets. Gera Moshkovich dozed, and Musya looked out the window into the darkness. He didn’t know anyone here besides Gera. Everyone was a stranger. Some people slept, and others didn’t, and the people who was awake were sitting quietly and thoughtfully, as though they had come from a funeral. Who were these people? They had ordinary faces – no Einsteins among them. The simpler, the better; this made it easier to make decisions. Only Blok said that “everything wonderful is difficult.” Blok didn’t leave. He stayed, because for him it was “difficult.” Petya was thoughtless to the extreme – he suddenly threw everything aside to go to Canada. What could he do there?! But maybe you had to be thoughtless? Why was this word even an insult? What was bad about being unthinking? Was it better to think harder, and to be a dimwit? No, Musya thought, these people were uninteresting. I would be bored with them. If they were not sorry about any of it, if it were so easy for them to leave, that meant there was nothing deep within them, they didn’t care… what didn’t they care about? What silliness! He needed to be decisive, to cast off all doubts, to stop poking around in his own shit. He should go home, wake Luisa, and tell her without hesitation, almost as an order: “Let’s leave!!!” Musya twitched as if from a shock.


They had reached his neighborhood. “Stop, please,” he said. “I’m getting out here.” It was good that there was moonlight. There was only one streetlamp for the whole neighborhood. All the buildings were identical, as in The Irony of Fate. “Our building has the whitest walls – there it is,” Musya thought. He carefully opened the door with his key, so as not to wake anyone up. The couch was wide: he could lie down without touching Luisa. Luisa had “light breathing.” Musya lay down next to her: “Let her sleep, no need to wake her up.” Musya was weak-willed, and he knew it. He wouldn’t wake Luisa up, wouldn't say anything to her today, tomorrow, or the day after. Musya was a typical henpecked husband. “And I’m not the only one,” he thought. He had no freedom, but he did have a deep, hidden stubbornness. From where? From whom? Musya and Luisa lived as though they were in different worlds. Luisa’s world was the world of family, of creation and accumulation, of gradual change and common sense. She didn’t live broadly but deeply. Where should she go? And why? The sky was the same everywhere. What was the sense in exchanging one sky for another? None at all. And the land? What could be better than our climate and land? Musya’s world was a world of restless demons, swaying shadows, universal sorrow, the clashing and collision of contradictions, and the constant struggle for justice for everyone, a justice that didn’t exist, and never would! But if you were to drive away all of Musya’s demons, nothing would remain but emptiness. Musya as such would fall off the face of the earth, as the twenty-year-old Tsvetaeva wrote: “… And I’ll disappear from the surface of the earth.” Musya lies awake next to Luisa. The demons circle the curves of his mind, having conversations, arguing, fighting and yelling. Musya doesn’t know where to hide, how to get away from them, but in the end he falls asleep. He will wake up in a few hours, but he might as well sleep for four years, which is exactly how long he needs to persuade Luisa to emigrate. Nothing in his life will change in these four years, so we will let them go. The bottom is the bottom, and about this it has already been written: “Man – it sounds noble!” It all took place in Berdyansk. What a wonderful place! Marvelous beaches, like in Evpatoria, warm sea, a clear sky… But there were no sewers. The whole day, “shit trucks” drive around the city, and the fine smell of shit follows them everywhere. The trucks drive around mostly in the morning, precisely when everyone is going to the beach. You breathe in the air and smell a rare aroma… Musya’s patient, Ira, obtained a three-week tourist pass. She settled in the neighboring cottage with her daughter. Ira was an even-


tempered person. She chirped like a little bird, never staying on any topic for long, but also never getting bored. Musya and Sasha led the way to the beach first, and Luisa, Tanya, Ira, and Liza followed. They spent the twenty-one days on the beach in this manner, without a break, because there was no rain at all. And Ira talked for all twenty-one of those days! Luisa’s voice was rarely heard, but Ira’s rang out like a bell – ding, ding, ding. Luisa said nothing good or bad about Ira. And that in itself was a sign. The main thing was that she didn’t tell Musya what they talked about. And this was also a sign. It meant that there was something inside her, something meaningful and important that needed to be digested… And Musya never asked Luisa what they talked about, assuming that it was about the children. What else would two young women talk about? When they returned from Berdyansk, Musya sensed a kind of change in Luisa. Perhaps not even a change – this might be putting it too strongly – so much as a kind of barely noticeable gentleness, more in her gaze, the timbre of her voice, and her attitude toward trifles, which she had earlier reacted to sharply and loudly. In this period of “melting ice,” Musya read one of Blok’s poems to Luisa: Do you remember? In our drowsy bay Greenish water slept, When in a wake-like column Navy ships appeared. All four were gray. And questions Worried us the entire hour, And sunburned sailors strode So proudly past us. `

The world became more thoughtful, wider, And suddenly, the ships sailed away. We saw all four of them Buried in the sea and night. The sea became itself again, The lighthouse sadly flickered, When on the lowered mast The last signal was given… How little we must do in life We children, you and me. The heart is glad to cheer itself With smallest novelty.


By chance you’ll find on a pocket-knife A speck of dust from far away – The world again becomes so strange, Wrapped in colorful fog! Immediately after reading the poem, Musya said that there was no chance his position would change, that he couldn’t imagine emigrating by himself, without her and the children, but that the main thing was that children with such a father had no future here. Next followed the submission of one document after another to the Office of Visas and Registration, a quiet resignation from work, and the sale of all furniture. They slept on mattresses on the floor, waiting for permission to depart. Two months passed, then another two, and then half a year, but they still hadn’t received permission. The money from the furniture was used up. The family was threatened with hunger, like during the Civil War. Luisa saved everyone. Another Ira worked at the commission store near Kharkov Bridge. She was one of our supporters. She called and told us that a sailor from Odessa had brought nine meters of gray mohair for sale: “Come quick!” she said. The Belochkins came. “You can make four women’s coats from this piece of mohair!” “I’ve never made a coat,” said Luisa. “It’s very simple,” said Ira. And she wrote down on a piece of paper how to cut out the material for four coats. “Do we also need lining?” Luisa asked. “No. You can make the coats without lining.” “What about the belts and buttons?” “The belts should be wide. You need to buy badges in a defense ministry retail store. It’s best for it to be a general’s badge, so it will be a little bigger and brighter, and the buttons should also be big, and certainly brilliant. They have them in the store on Traktornyi Zavod. I’ll give you the address.” It took Luisa a week to sew the first coat, but four days for the second, and just two days for the third. She sewed the fourth in just one day! Musya delivered the coats on commission. They sold like tickets to Sviatoslav Richter’s concerts! The profits from the coats gave them enough to live on, but the uncertainty and hopelessness of the general situation tormented everyone. There was nothing to complain about, and nobody to complain to. They didn’t buy any new furniture, just sat on their suitcases and waited.


Just when it seemed that they had no more strength to wait, Musya met a young acquaintance on the street. He nodded to him, and was about to continue on his way, but the young man stopped, and Musya suddenly recognized him. Musya had treated Igor’s father, who had suffered from leukemia for a long time, and often stopped to see Musya in the department. Musya even visited him at home and gave him blood transfusions. The son didn’t want his father’s last months and days to be spent in the hospital, so Musya organized a kind of hospice for him. Musya had not seen Igor since his father had died six years ago. Igor was an associate professor, and not Jewish, and Musya didn’t want to tell him about his affairs. But Igor, sensing something, said: “Excuse me, but I’m not used to seeing you in such a state. Something has happened to you. Don’t be afraid: tell me about it. Maybe I can help in some way? For the memory of my father?” Musya almost burst into tears, and he told Igor everything. “You know,” Igor said, ‘I think I actually can help you, or at least find out something. I have a good friend from school there. I’ll call him.” In a week, Igor called around 10:00 in the evening. “Can you meet now?” he asked. “But it’s raining cats and dogs!” said Musya. “It’s good that it’s raining. We can walk under an umbrella. Do you have one? I’ll wait for you at the first entrance of Kultura Street no. 3, across from the little market on Sumskaya Street. Do you know this place?” “Yes. I’ll be there in 20-30 minutes.” Musya and Igor walked to Lenin Prospect. “I met with my friend on Victory Square,” said Igor, “it’s actually right across from their agency. He stopped by during a break and gave me an update on your situation.” Musya waited with bated breath. He felt like all this was taking place in the film Seventeen Moments of Spring. He was struck by how simply and easily it took place. He had spent a year in ignorance and fear, shaking like a leaf. And now, suddenly, in one fell swoop, he was finding out everything in just one minute with no difficulties. “You know I can’t tell you everything, but I’ll talk so that you’ll understand. They can forgive you for leaving, but not your wife. She has to bite her tongue and cut off all, I repeat, all conversations.” “With whom? Where? At home?” “It doesn’t matter where. She has to be totally silent. Do you understand?” “Yes.” “Warn her about this.” “So will we get permission if she corrects this?” “It will remove the annoyance and additional attention being paid to your persons. Remember, walls have ears!”


Musya went home at 1:00 at night, soaked to the skin. He woke up Luisa: “Let’s go!” “Where?” she said. “What time is it?” “It’s 1:00 at night. Let’s go!” “Are you crazy? Where? You’re all wet!” “Get up, I’m telling you. Get dressed. The rain has stopped!” There was a forest nearby. Musya took a flashlight. They went into the forest. “What’s here, buried treasure?” “Be quiet.” Musya looked around. Nobody was around them. Not a soul. No people, and no animals. Everyone slept. The whole ten years they had lived here, they had never once gone to the forest at night. “I was told that you need to stop all conversations, that the walls have ears. Understand?” “Do you think they’ve bugged us? Where? Under the flowerpot? In the chandeliers?” “Fuck you. I have no plans to look for them and pull them out.” “Then what will we be able to talk about at home?” “About the most neutral things. We can’t have anyone over. If we do, then it has to be in the forest.” “Should we build a little hut here?” “Don’t be sarcastic…” “I’ll walk around the room singing, ‘I love you, KGB’.” “Don’t joke. This is serious. We’ve been waiting for a year already. Do you want us to never be able to go, or to be put in jail?” Luisa was silent. “You didn’t do anything wrong. They can’t forgive you for what they can forgive me.” “That I'm Russian?” “Yes.” “You know, I’ve figured out where the bug is hidden. When I’m cleaning up and I walk up close to the telephone outlet on the wall between us and Izya, I hear him talking with Anya through the electrical outlet. I hear everything. And I don’t even need a bug.” “Precisely in that place?” “Yes. We share the telephone outlet, and the wall is thin. It’s like a hole in the wall.” “So you think Izya is spying on us?” “It’s possible.” “You think he spends the whole day by this hole, lying on the floor, and then writing up a denunciation of us? He goes to work. And so does Anya.” “Then maybe they put the bug on his side.” “Who?”


“They could openly request it, or send people from the Automated Telephone Station over. To check the cable, or something else like that…” “Be that as it may, keep your mouth shut.” Six more months went by, but there was still no permission. They involuntarily started paying attention to Izya. Following him. He was an English teacher. He gave Luisa English lessons once a week. Izya came to the Belochkins for the lessons, and never invited them to his place. One night they heard a sound coming from his side of the wall: boom-boom-boom. Musya jumped up and ran over to Izya’s in his underwear. Izya was having a heart attack, a real one and a big one, with cold sweat, fear of death, and unbearable pain. Musya gave Izya an injection. They called an ambulance. While they were waiting for it, Musya held Izya’s hand, stroked him, and said, “Hang on, hang on.” Then Musya went to the hospital with Izya and talked with the doctors. After Izya was discharged from the hospital, he told Musya that he had saved his life. “That’s nonsense,” said Musya. Later, four engineers came to Kharkov from England to install new equipment for the tobacco factory, so they could produce four times as many cigarettes. Izya was assigned to translate for the Englishmen. In the forest, Luisa and Musya came to the conclusion that a simple Jew would never be given this kind of work without doing something in return. This meant he was the one who betrayed them. “Don’t ask him for anything, just tell him about our disastrous situation,” said Luisa. “You saved his life, after all!” “I didn’t save his life, but if I must speak with him, I will.” Musya talked with Izya on a bench in Gorky Park. In a few days, Izya called Musya to the forest. “Most of the department is against you,” said Izya straightforwardly. “There’s a red mark on your file. I saw it myself, they showed it to me. “Detain him for five years!” Hearing this news, Musya’s hair stood on end. “Then what should I do?” he said. “Work. Do physical labor. You need to show your stability through physical labor, not exercise. Occupy yourself with some kind of manual labor.” “And then?” “And then, they might let you go.” “When?” “I don’t know.” “And did you put in a good word for me?” “Of course. I told them that you saved my life.” After this conversation with Izya, Musya went to his mother, a party member, and made a scene, acting as though she, his mother, was


guilty of everything. He yelled so loudly that a crack formed in the ceiling. His mother didn’t hold back and made an appointment with a general. She created a scandal the likes of which he had never seen or heard. In three days, Musya was called and told to go to the Office of Visas and Passports to prepare documents for departure for him and his whole family. Musya went to the Dutch embassy in Moscow for his visas, and in the evening, went to Leningrad on the same train. Arriving at Moscow Station, he called a taxi and told the driver that he wanted to hire him for the whole day. First he went to the Beketov House on Vasilevsky Island, at the Strelka itself. Blok was born in this house, and his grandfather was Andrei Beketov, rector of St. Petersburg University. Musya stood by the house, leaning against the wall. Then he went to Decembrist Street no. 53, the last apartment of Blok, where he died. Musya look around him for the well known qualities from the poem: Night, street, lantern, drugstore, A dim and senseless light. If you live another quarter century – Everything will be like this. There’s no escape. And if you die, you’ll start all over again, And repeat everything anew: Night, icy ripples in the canal. Drugstore, street, lantern. Later, he went to the Volkovsky Cemetery, which was already closed. The taxi driver found a policeman to open the gate, and the three of them went to Blok’s grave. The marble gravestone consisted of two parts: one vertical, for Blok, the other a horizontal slab for his relatives. They all lay next to each other, even those who had quarreled their whole life and hated each other. Musya, the taxi driver and the policeman walked out of the cemetery. It was already light outside. On the way to the taxi, Musya saw some boys on the clearing a few hundred feet from the cemetery playing soccer. And Musya said to himself: “Remember these boys, remember them! These boys are the last and most important piece of evidence you should take with you, in your memory and your heart. They should become part of your soul, a guarantee of your happy return, and the hopes and future of your Homeland.


Chapter 19

Reincarnation In America, Musya shared his impressions of the departure with me. “We sense freedom easily, just as we do material,” said Musya. “And unfreedom, too. All night, while our train went from Brest to Vienna, border guards stopped by our compartment every two hours. At first they were Polish, then Czech. Demonstrating zeal for service, they shone a flashlight into everyone’s face, then on the visas, comparing our faces with the photos on the visas.” “Did they wake up the children, too?” “Everyone, everyone, I’m telling you. The children cried, but they couldn’t care less about us and our children. And I had a nightmarish view of soldiers with automatic rifles the whole time at the Brest station. In the corridors of the customs hall, on the platform near our train, facing us, with their backs to the station. As if we wanted to attack them!” “Why did they do this?” “Again, simply from zeal. It was impossible to intimidate us, because we were leaving anyway.” “And how was Vienna?” “When the train reached the platform, it was morning, and nobody was there to meet us. I was the first to get out of the traincar after the conductor, even though I hadn’t slept the whole night because of those damn border guards. From the first minutes, I was terribly excited, as though we were landing on the moon. The conductor was calm, but I was nervous.” “Did you think an orchestra would be there to meet you, playing the hymn “An unbreakable union of free republics, Great Russia has welded…’?” “Stop joking. The platform was completely empty, and the minute of waiting seemed like an eternity. Then I saw people walking along the train to our car. They walked unhurriedly.” “Without flowers?” “Without flowers or anything else. Their attitude seemed casual. Feelings were raging in my soul. I could barely hold myself back, but for these people, it was their work, their routine. Today they’d meet us, and tomorrow they’d meet different people. And you know, I suddenly calmed down, even before they reached us. I understood that to them, there was nothing heroic about us; we didn’t differ in any way from anyone else. We were already part of their lives, their space, their system. And as in any system, there were all kinds of mishaps, details, mistakes, awkwardness, and misunderstandings. I understood from that moment on that they considered us their fellow people.”


“So you calmed down?” “Yes, I did. There was no fuss, no commotion. Their efficiency and routine were contagious. Porters appeared without any shouting or commands, and there was no need to arrange anything or bargain with them. Then we were led to buses, where our luggage had already been loaded, to take us to our hotels. As we rode the bus, a translator was already informing us about our daily routine, how much money we would be given each day, when we would return to the hotel, when we would be interviewed, what documents we needed, and even how to dress for this occasion. It was such a contrast with what we had experienced over the past two years! We were completely unused to simple human relations. There, we were constantly forced to ask for something, humiliate ourselves, wriggle out of trouble, tremble and live in fear.” “What were your impressions of Vienna as a city?” “Up until then, I had only seen Western cities in the movies. There were some funny situations. For instance, I was certain that the Danube flowed through Vienna itself. The street our hotel was on led to a bridge that crossed a river. The day after we arrived, I got up earlier than everyone else and went to gather intelligence.” “Like Stirlitz?” “Exactly. I went up to the bridge. I remember a kiosk selling books, or more likely newspapers, and I saw pornographic magazines for the first time, staring me right in the face…” “And you got scared?” “At first, yes. I even averted my eyes instinctively. I felt awkward standing in front of the kiosk, even ashamed, as if everyone were looking at me. There were many people going to work.” “So you just slowed down a bit…” “Yes. Wow, you really know me well. I feel like you know me better than I know myself.” “What were the women like in Vienna?” “Mostly brunettes.” “And did you see prostitutes in the flesh?” “Wait, I’ll tell you about this in a bit. Don’t interrupt me. So, I came to the river, went onto the bridge, and stood in the middle, like Robert Taylor in Waterloo Bridge.” “And then what?” “The river seemed very narrow and pretty dirty. It didn’t look like the Danube.” “Was it a tributary of the Danube?” “No. I found out later that it was some canal. That’s what it was called: Canal. So Vienna turned out to be mostly land. And the ‘Blue Danube’ flowed outside of Vienna. To be honest, we didn’t even see it.” “And ‘Tales from the Vienna Woods’ – is that also a myth?” “No, the Vienna woods really exist, and you can go there by tram.”


“And did you?” “Yes, but first let me tell you about my visit to the Vienna market. For us, it was like a baptism in the River Jordan, like a pilgrimmage to Mecca.” “Why?” “The Vienna market, first and most importantly, was material proof of capitalism’s superiority to socialism in the form in which ours existed. The market was near our hotel, a ten-minute walk away. I don’t think this was by accident. We had only just gotten to our hotel, and hadn’t even had time to unpack our suitcases and feed our children when people who were already living there took us to the market.” “What struck you most about the market?” “Its total abundance. It had everything. There were items I’d never seen in my life, and I was forty…” “Such as?” “Pineapples, avocados, kiwis, mangos. These are the ones I’m familiar with now, but there were all sorts of things I still don’t know.” “But you recognized some things, right?” “I recognized sausages, ham, hot dogs. There was so much cheese that my head started to spin. They weren’t cheeses, but some kind of howitzer. And hens hanging side by side, with their bellies reflected in the rays of the midday sun… Our mouths started to water so much that we kept having to wipe our faces.” “Did you buy things?” “At first we were afraid to. Then, at the urging of our children and my mother-in-law, we started shopping. We had already been given money on the bus. One woman asked her husband, ‘Has it been like this here for a long time?’ ‘It’s always been like this here,’ he answered. And to be honest, we were ashamed. Ashamed of our poverty. Remember, during the war there was a term, ‘the disenfranchised.’ We now sensed our disenfranchisement.” “But man cannot live on bread…” “That’s right, not on bread alone. But there are criteria, there’s a bar, and people below it are deprived of human dignity. We didn’t notice this, because we had nothing to compare ourselves to. We had never traveled anywhere or seen anything.” “But you can find this kind of market in any Western city. What was special about the one in Vienna?” “The absence of any imperial pomposity or capital chic. Vienna seems very domestic. Of course, there are palaces, an enormous cathedral, broad squares, the Opera, the Ringstrasse, monuments, parks, public gardens. But all of these are somehow connected with each other, everything is well proportioned without being humdrum or provincial. And everything has a kind of inner lightness, airiness, grace and balance.” “And what about the people?”


“The people are very reserved. The Viennese don’t wave their hands and talk loudly. They sit in the streets and squares, and at tables in little restaurants and cafés, unhurriedly drinking coffee.” “What about the women?” “The women are ordinary. I didn’t notice any particular beauties. They generally dress with taste, a bit strictly, maybe too strictly for our brother.” “You mean not very colorfully?” “Yes, usually in gray and beige tones. From their walk, the way they carry themselves, the way they dress, you can see a kind of inner cultivation. I’d say that they feel their history. And almost none of them are fat.” “Would you live in Vienna?” “It has everything you need to live a calm, measured, normal life. And it’s not boring. The spirit of Mozart hovers over Vienna to this day.” “And does it have something for the soul? Maybe this very spirit?” “Not just that. It has something even more important. Vienna gave me my first feeling of freedom; you might say it was a gift. But I didn’t feel overwhelmed by it, as I might have in an enormous city like New York or London. There was no stress. I think Vienna is the most suitable place for transition, for reincarnation, for transformation, for someone to feel like a free, selfsufficient person. The day before we left for Italy, we went by tram on an excursion to the Viennese forest, which forms a half-circle around the city. Then our guide gave us time to wander around the forest by ourselves. Everyone wandered off with their families. The four of us – Luisa, Sasha, Tanya and I – also went. Luisa started looking for mushrooms. Then we came to a field with an old oak tree in the middle.” “Like the one in Tolstoy’s in War and Peace?” “Yes, like Tolstoy’s. We sat nearby on the grass. I felt complete freedom on this field for the first time in the past two weeks. It was quiet, and this oak felt like a member of our family, part of our inner world. I thought about how this tree was born here, and would die, perhaps, in 150-200 years. After all, it’s not only people who die. The old tree would eventually be felled to the ground, either by a hurricane, a forest fire, lightning, a meteorite, or some other disaster. Or maybe by a human hand holding an axe or saw, or by war. And then, not so much directly connected with the tree, but more for different reasons, another thought came to me. This thought probably reflected everything that had happened in Vienna the past two weeks: ‘You can be born into slavery, but you shouldn’t die a slave.’” “And then you went to Italy with everyone else?” “Yes. And it would be better to sing about Italy than tell you about it, that is, to depict it musically. Words don’t do Italy justice.”


“Then what should we call the last chapter?” “Let’s call it ‘Italian Capriccio’.”

Chapter 20

Italian Capriccio Musya woke up and saw green fields outside his window, glistening with early morning fog. The sun stood low in the sky, and the view somehow recalled Crimea, but the colors here appeared gentler, and the plain, extending far, far away, seemed broader, more sweeping, and more delicate. The sky, like a light blanket, enveloped everything around in a translucent blue expanse. Musya opened the window, and the stuffiness of the traincar was pierced by a gust of air emanating the smell of young grass and the first blooming of flowers. Musya drew a deep breath into his chest, feeling a sort of calm, expansive ecstasy and yielding every little part of his body and soul to this land, which nature had allotted an extraordinary and astonishing unity of all the elements. Italy enchanted and captured your heart immediately and forever, and returned you to yourself whole. In two hours, the train turned south, and the landscape changed noticeably. Hills appeared, suffused in sunny light. Behind them, silhouettes of dark mountains, eternal and silent sentries of the wondrous land, appeared along the whole horizon. Then the valley became wider, the hills gave way to a plain, and the distant row of mountains dissolved in the fog. Closer to the railroad tracks, the space started to look more lived-in. More little stations and towns started to flash by, and eventually, there was an unbroken stream of houses and buildings. Everyone was glued to the windows, hearts beat faster, and a pleasant feeling of excitement seized everyone as the train slowly pulled into the station. They stuck their heads out the open window and saw an enormous sign: ROME The Belochkins settled in Ostia, about 25 miles from Rome. To get to Rome, they needed a train that arrived at the Termini station. Right there, Musya saw a live prostitute for the first time in his life: a brunette, no longer young, in a very short skirt, with enormous hips and powerful breasts. Musya gazed at her and turned away, ashamed. The image of this woman stayed in his memory forever, pure and unblemished. All in all, his first days in Rome astounded him. Every morning, after breakfast, Musya left his first-floor apartment in the communist neighborhood of Ostia and took the bus for about 20 minutes to the railroad station. There he got on a train and


arrived at the Termini station in 40-45 minutes. From there, he walked through the whole city. Where did Musya Belochkin go? He went along Via Veneto to the American embassy, which was located near the Borghese Villa. The embassy was adjacent to a building in which the Italo-American Institute was located. Teachers from America gave lectures in English to Italian doctors who wanted to continue their education in the United States. Musya paid $240 and registered just to spend time there: he could barely make out anything in the lectures, and had difficulty understanding the flashing slides. Attending the institute didn’t require anything from him: he didn’t have to take quizzes or exams. He told the family servants all kinds of stories and, almost always alone, enjoyed Rome, which immediately attached itself to him like a living being. He had nothing to compare Rome to except Vienna, the only other Western city he knew. But Musya intuitively sensed that Rome was unlike any other city in the world, and not just the way Paris didn’t resemble London: this was a completely different kind of unresemblance. It would be more precise to say that Rome is the only city on earth that differs from all others in the special, singular feeling it inspires in almost everyone. Everyone finds something for himself that belongs only to Rome, and it doesn’t have to be the ancient ruins, which are more abundant than in any other city. It’s everything together, the unique combination of times, epochs, layers connected architecturally and spatially in a single cluster, in that frozen, inherited light untidiness, consisting of the essence of genuine democratism, singular to the Italians. But Musya wasn’t thinking of all this. He simply fell in love with Rome, not even understanding why. He instantly experienced a sensual response to Rome. Every place in the city gave birth to its own feelings. But if we are to speak of experiences, of real sensations, of deep impressions – fleeting and lasting – insights, discoveries, and associations, then of course the ruins, as living traces of a great, mysterious civilization, had the strongest effect on Musya. He experienced something like a feeling of guilt, personal guilt for the tragedy that had taken place 1,500 years ago. This feeling did not fade when he wandered far away from the noisy tourist areas along quiet, bright streets, replete with plane trees and stone pines, with their outer simplicity and unpretentiousness, airiness, openness and delicate spectrum of colors, with the kind of elegance that characterizing all things Italian. And he had the sensation that all houses and streets, paved roads, trees, flowers, fountains, winding grapevines, courtyards, porticos and portals, and sculptures came from the same distant ancestor – subtle, intelligent, mocking, always ready to get up and go, embodying in itself the entire Italian character and giving the world the gift of this great, eternal wonder, which is called by a word as capacious as a nimbus: Rome!


But then he was again drawn, as if by a magnet, to the places that released him from everything trivial and ordinary. He was free from time and space as he looked at extractions from underground, from the depths of ages, from the otherworldly, graceful columns, slabs and stones with the presentiments, rather than feelings, placed within them. These ruins embodied a kind of lawlessness and incompletion, an element of the impractical and unsound, without words or fruit, mute hint, a puff of wind, a frozen question, a silent reproach, a soundless groan, and above all of this – a gravelike silence. Neither graves nor tombstones, the usual lodgers at churches and cathedrals, were here. The ruins were empty, transparent, and undemanding, open to the sky, the sun, and the gaze of the entire world. Musya stood at the very spot where, according to legend, Caesar was stabbed. You only needed to close your eyes to imagine the blood splattered on the stone slabs. Musya went outside and mingled with the crowd, pleased with the simple consciousness of his existence. But merging externally with the crowd and obeying its inexorable motion, he still remained for a long time in the spell of something much more powerful, great, and enduring compared with the petty and worthless present. The barbarians had come and destroyed a wonderful world, a flowering garden, the sweet freshness of the fruits and tart astringency of the wine. They had robbed, burned and destroyed majestic temples and grand buildings, conceived in their builders’ daring dreams, and they erected their newly-emerged temples in their place from those very stones. Rome filled Musya with questions he could not answer. The standard forms and assumptions he had acquired in his childhood fell to pieces like a house of cards as he first made contact with a world he had not seen to that point. It had been drummed into his head that the ruin of great civilizations was as predetermined and unavoidable as the death of individual people. But to accept this assumption would be equivalent to a mother’s acceptance of the death of her child. A mother could never reconcile herself to this death, and would never accept it. Musya sat at the table after lunch. The children wandered in and out. Luisa washed the dishes. Musya got a piece of paper, put it on the table in front of him, and began to write down whatever came into his head at the given moment, the way the children were coming into the room. The poetry was born of itself: he only needed to write it down quickly enough, without making any marks or corrections.


There is wonder in the eternal ancient ruins, Without them Rome would not be Rome. When I stood in the Roman Forum, And imagined everything as it was, I imagined Caesar entering the hall, Confident, His tunic shining Fiery as never before. In the passageways and by the walls The crowds gather. Nobody knows that the moment Of reckoning Is already going in reverse. That after what happens Here, A turn of events and centuries, Will begin. And the new man will come And everyone will notice him. Meanwhile The Senate Seems to await something, As if only an exclamation Is missing… Suddenly, unnoticed From both sides – There is a motion From Caesar. Tension in the Senate Has reached a peak, Everyone freezes: Not a sound. And then – a hand, No, hands – hands O-o-o-o! What’s glittering there? O-o-o-o! Confident, And knowing what will happen, The calm Caesar Looks with a smile At the senators, congregating


In the corner. – Well?.. He won’t suffer long. The first of the daggers, Describing an arc, Overcoming fearful anguish, Pierces the toga To the body. And, not looking each other In the eyes, the senators Run. Oh God, God, God! But God is not here yet, he will come later, He will be here in forty Years. And Caesar falls to the ground, And the howling and groaning From the walls of the Senate Like the thunder of an alarm Without telephone wires Pierces Rome, As the daggers – Pierced Caesar. Two thousand years later I feel pity. I feel sorry for Caesar, But I love Rome And will never Betray it.


PART FOUR Chapter 21

The Geography Teacher Musya Belochkin visited me after his arrival in America. “What did you bring from Italy,” I asked him. “You’ll never guess…” “A lacquered little table from Sorrento.” “That’s right, but how did you guess?” “Because I brought one too. 99% of immigrants bring back these tables.” “But I brought something else, too…” “Something from the material or spiritual realm?” “The spiritual.” “A book?” “Yes.” “Dante’s Divine Comedy?” “No.” “A collection of Petrarch’s sonnets?” “No.” “A collection of Cicero’s speeches?” “In those days, when in the Lyceum gardens I blossomed undisturbed, I eagerly read Apuleius, But didn’t read Cicero…” “You didn’t bring Pushkin, did you?” “Precisely Pushkin. The work I just recited from.” “Did you memorize all of Eugene Onegin? Like Lenin?” “Yes, almost all of it. By the way, I brought this book to show you, a limited edition. Want to see it?” “Yes.” Musya took the book out of his briefcase. The book was old, with greasy stains and inkblots on the hard darkgray buckram binding with small indentations. There was gilding on the whole spine, but now it was a barely noticeable, faded, encircled flourish of writing. However, a double chest portrait in the middle of Pushkin and Onegin next to each other, shoulder to shoulder, was very well preserved. Both were wearing top hats and frilled crops. This seemed to be one of the portraits that Pushkin himself had drawn on the pages of his manuscript. I opened the book, and saw an inscription in violet ink in the upper left-hand corner, which had barely faded:


To my dear Elizaveta Vasilevna From the grateful mothers 11 August, 1941 Lomaka Kuzhena And on the next page I read: Eugene Onegin A novel in verse By Alexander Pushkin Drawings by N. Kuzmin Academia 1933 And in the rest of the text, there were drawings on almost every page in pen and colored, pastel. The drawings were enchanting – there was no other word for it. There were many others by Pushkin, who was no worse an artist than Lermontov and Kuzmin, and they were sutble, light, airy… And this wonderful Kuzmin: where did he come from and where did he disappear to? To the left of every chapter, there was a large color drawing, a “transparent” drawing, so to speak. Before the chapter in which Onegin kills Lensky, Lensky lies dead on his back, and Pushkin and Onegin are leaning over him, the latter down on one knee before the lifeless Lensky… And the drawings of women, with marvelous hair styles and waists… no such drawings are seen today, and never will be again. Musya brought me out of my daydream with his question: “So what do you think – do you like it?” “It’s like a symphony of drawings, no, an opera. But where did you get this book? Did you buy it from a bookstore on the banks of the Tiber River?” “No. There’s a long story behind it. Want me to tell it?” “I hope you didn’t steal the book. You are a decent, law-abiding person. Or you were, at least…” “A woman was living in Ostia for a year before us…” “Was it this Elizaveta Vasilevna?” “Yes. She lived in our building, but we never saw her.” “And did you find this book hidden in the water pipe?” “No. Elizaveta Vasilevna gave her neighbor, Zhilina, the book to read. We did run into her: she also lived on our floor, and was waiting for a visa to Australia. You had to wait up to two years to get a visa to Australia. Zhilina did not give this book back to Elizaveta Vasilevna, but later, when she found out that we were going to Chicago, she decided to give it to me.” “Her conscience spoke to her…” “Yes, it did.” “So now you’ve decided to screw her over, scoundrel!”


“No, don’t think so badly of me. That’s your character flaw – you think badly of others. I notice that you think people are worse than they actually are. And I think they are better, and you see how happy I am.” “So why do you still have this book, a year after your departure? You didn’t find Elizaveta Vasilevna, right, poor guy? She changed her address, her name, her telephone number, she went to a different city…” “Stop it. I just told you not to think worse of people than they actually are. I found her and gave the book back, and Elizaveta Vasilevna turned out to be a most unique woman.” “Every person is unique.” “But not everyone has her story.” “How old is she?” “She’s 68, but very lively, bright, energetic. She doesn’t look at you, but pierces you right through with her eyes, and she speaks like a machine gun, with short bursts of fire. It’s true that she sometimes swallows her words and lisps a little. And she limps on her left side. She had a knee operation for her arthritis. It wasn’t successful. So when I saw her for the first time, of course I returned the book to her and asked about the inscription. And then it all started. She is a marvelous storyteller, with an amazing memory for details, as though she’s reporting events from the previous day or even today, right before my arrival…” “Does she live alone?” “Yes. She was given an apartment in a tall building in the eighth government housing program, a cozy little apartment, with a kitchen joined to a dining room, and a bedroom. Her daughter and son-in-law live in the same building, three floors above. The building is not far from a lake. She walks there slowly, with a cane, if the weather permits.” “So what struck you about her – that she talks fast?” “It’s not important the way she talks in a physical sense, but what she talks about, and how she tells it. Such concentration, abundance of details, such brilliance, precision, and narrative incisiveness: it was as though her perspective were her own, but at the same time not hers…” “God’s?” “Exactly, as though it were God’s, from somewhere up high, such an impassive view. It’s true that she cried at certain points… breaking out in sobs without tears, swallowing a bunch of words in a row… all in a bullet-like motion… What struck me was that something was always taking place in her stories, without a break, without intervals, like in Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Do you know why this is the greatest opera? Because Mozart doesn’t give us idiots a breather. One brilliant aria follows another, each more brilliant than the next, and after it, another, and another, and another. It’s an unstoppable stream of divine music… That’s what she was like, a kind of whirlwind, a hurricane of events that you could barely record in time…”


“Why, did you record them? On a tape?” “The very first day I sensed that if I didn’t take down everything she said, it would be robbing humanity, depriving it of a whole world, losing everything forever and irretrievably… I visited her several times. We sat at the table, and next to it there was a cage with a bird in it. The bird hopped and chirped, tekh-tekh, chik-chik. You can hear it chirping on the tape…” “Excuse me, but what relation does her life have to yours? Why are you the one who had to record her? Although you’re a poet, you grew up in a different era, a different time, with different problems. Is she Jewish?” “No, she isn’t. But you know, the main thing isn’t whether someone is Jewish or something else. That’s not what’s essential. The essence is in human suffering, our relations to this suffering, and in this case my relations to it. You know, after Rome, after Italy, I couldn’t calm down. I thought about how we are direct descendants of the barbarians who destroyed Rome.” “And what about it?” “That we’re not only descendants of barbarians, but we ourselves are barbarians. Do you remember Gorky’s play, Barbarians? Destroying slavery along with Rome, we remained slaves, and with all of our so-called progress, nothing changed.” “You seem deeply depressed. You need treatment!” “No, all of humanity needs treatment, and me along with everyone else.” “By the way, how did you end up getting that book?” “After the last recording, she gave it to me.” Musya took the book back from me and put it back in his briefcase. “Did all of these ideas come to you when you were recording her?” “Another person might have gotten something else out of it, but this is what I got.” “Do you think it would be interesting to publish the whole story?” “Yes. And not just publish it, but pass it along word for word, and even pass along her breathing if it could be done. I even thought up a poem about this: Life passed without any punctuation marks, Without capital letters – in one breath. “Do you mean you would write it this way, like Joyce, as a stream of consciousness?”


“No, this is not a stream of consciousness. It’s like a river, leaving its shores, shattering everything in its path: human destiny, human life, and human happiness.” Life passed without any punctuation marks, Without capital letters – in one breath. Musya Belochkin my father vasily dmitrievich bronitsky held an important post there was a kind of imperial philanthropic society known throughout russia it had department branches in literally all cities and subsisted on enormous resources from its contributors there were hospitals childrens’ shelters institutes and all sorts of free schools were established i know that my father was the vice-director of this imperial philanthropic society he had to appear at large elaborate receptions in which he was commended as a good director he was a very good speaker and had a wonderful gift of telling stories giving reports and announcements this was probably hereditary since my older sister taught botany and i taught geography in school we were never at a loss for words you didn’t use notes we never used notes my speech was very fluent i loved not only presenting geographical information but also telling the children in evacuation about when we had no books and when we traveled in dark cold freight trains i told them as many works by classic writers as i could from memory tell me where you lived we lived in a large apartment in leningrad in st. petersburg in st. petersburg on liteinyi prospect it was an enormous apartment from the philanthropic society there were six rooms the house didn’t belong to you it belonged to the philanthropic society and that post your father had was he allowed to do whatever he wanted yes but they generally gave people apartments many good people lived there how many floors was the building it was five stories and there was also a wing inside and a red carpet was laid at the front entrance and i knew all the servants well the whole family was raised to be very polite to all the servants we didn’t call the porters ivan efim we said ivan nikolaevich yakov ivanovich afanasy gordeevich therefore everyone knew us very well maybe it influenced things when the revolution happened and there was already wait what floor did you live on


we lived on the third floor we had a large apartment six rooms with a balcony how many children were in your family there were six of us we were a big family with eight people i was the youngest the oldest my sister was seventeen years older than me she was already studying in the bestuzhev courses one brother was a kammerjunker and the others finished the gymnasium and your mother didn’t work mama of course didn’t work we had a nanny then she lived with us for a long time was the nanny the only one or were there also a cook and other servants we also had a cook she was very distinctive my father was a very patient man and very respectful of the different people who were persecuted for being a different nationality our cook was part of a group of fugitive poles and we had very good relations with her she went to the polish church our father preached the importance of always respecting all different customs and traditions were you orthodox of course our family was orthodox so since you were orthodox you probably have a memory of some episode of the prerevolutionary days some kind of reception or another event before the revolution we lived very modestly anyway we always had acquaintances or students visiting us people father found somewhere and they came to petersburg and then it was called petrograd and they always stayed with us your father had a university education besides the university i think my father graduated from some philological department in general he was a man of very high education he knew french very well and latin greek and german not so well did he have polish ancestors i think bronitsky is a polish name yes exactly he had a polish relative i didn’t know my greatgrandfather and great-grandmother i know that they didn’t live in russia most of their lives and papa went to st. petersburg at some point and settled there and when mama told him he put too much effort into taking care of people like poor students he said that he had also been taken care of and that he also made his way up in the world thanks to the help of many strangers for instance one of them was seryozha tikhov who helped us a lot after the revolution your father’s views were left-wing did he belong to a party closer to the democratic socialists or yes there was a democratic mood in our family my older brothers and sisters were always talking about some kind of revolutionary circles they always had books i don’t know where they got them pisarev chernyshevsky and other such writers in general we had a great many books our father made sure that we read a lot besides all


kinds of books which filled at least three bookcases he also subscribed to Niva and bound it we had enormous volumes of Niva it was a very interesting journal there were photographs of the tsar and of war times and we were acquainted with writers who were not widely published at the time for example the writers leshchinsky and gnedich who was no longer published i don’t know why do you remember the gatherings in which you personally saw the tsar i was too young when the revolution took place i was only six years old i remember some revolutionary events but as far as official ones such as when papa and mama went to the meeting of the nobility or to some jubilee i only know how they went to them and then told us about them and we were interested to hear about what they ate and what fork they needed to eat with and what kind of glass was needed for each wine i don’t know i never had to make use of this knowledge there were many children in the family but it was always surprisingly quiet our main activity was reading not being able to read was simply considered a disgrace i don’t even remember a time when i couldn’t read but also if there was something i read but couldn’t remember so if my older brothers and sisters asked me do you remember where thus and such was written i had to strain my memory which was always good it turned out that i’d suddenly remember and say it’s from bezhin meadow and this is from dostoevsky but chekhov and pushkin were well known so our father asked us tough questions about their literary creation music was also highly regarded in our family we had a piano papa it’s true played violin very poorly the violin lay unused but literally everyone played the piano the older ones had a music teacher and the younger ones learned all kinds of songs and melodies from opera arias by ear levko’s aria from may nights and quietly sang them i can’t say that the whole family was very religious but we observed lent and various other holidays too and in general there was a very democratic atmosphere people could visit us do you remember the melody of levko i’ve forgotten it of course i remember it then let’s sing it together the way it sounded the sun is down evening is near come to me my darling books music literature we had all this in our home your father had a rank something like a general his high excellency vasily dmitrievich bronitsky was written on envelopes we didn’t really understand what high excellency meant but i know that citizens sometimes called him state secret councillor this title I remember well so like karenin an active state councillor privy councillor excuse me but he was an active state councillor at first he was a state councillor but then a full something


so privy councillor was higher and i don’t even know what’s higher than that a senator or something else [whispering] i don’t know i don’t know i don’t know ok [whispering] i don’t remember i don’t remember so now we’re up to your memories of the revolution itself to the revolution the october revolution no the february revolution was a loud event a machine gun was set up on the roof of our house and opposite our house was artillery lane and it led right to the artillery barracks do you remember the liteinyi address liteinyi 31 is it still there it’s there and these barracks were fired upon there were sapper and artillery units and they shot straight from our roof and there were a few times when bullets flew at us on the third floor one of them flew into the dining room and got stuck in the stove in the tile stove we looked at it in the light for a long time and all of us children were taken into the rooms overlooking the courtyard as some of our rooms were on the side of the courtyard but the big rooms overlooked the street liteinyi in general it was a unique revolution after that there were many searches my older brother who was at a military cadet school wasn’t in petrograd at the time i don’t know where he was he later returned in military uniform and one of my other brothers nikolai took part in the gymnasium assemblies once he jumped out onto the street he was taken wounded in the shoulder they managed to get the bullet out on some street it’s good that there was an enormous drug store in which they knew where the razumovsky family lived when we were sick we got all our medicine from that same drug store they prescribed medicine and there was a doctor komokhes a wonderful pediatrician who lived then and after the revolution latvian grigory abramovich jewish yes grigory abramovich komokhes lived on basseinyi near liteinyi he often came to our house alone and when our brother wanted to announce that there had been a bombardment he wrote that grigory abramovich broke his glasses today we understood that shrapnel fell near this house and his windows shattered he stopped by often not only when we were sick he somehow singled me out because i had a quick mind in contrast to my youngest brother my older brother was a very serious blond boy he read a lot explained everything very well he was devoted to science although that didn’t work out for him but i was awfully restless speaking quickly running quickly i can’t even remember when i learned to read but i know that i read from an early age he called me a spinning top when he visited


and he would ask so what have you last read since the last time and i would begin to tell him but zhenya would be sitting there and he’d say you mixed everything up that isn’t chekhov that story about a beetle isn’t by chekhov that’s not it at all it’s syoma’s childhood i worried that i’d get a reputation for having a bad memory later on they began to come for searches the searches were very strange five or six soldiers dressed in uniform would come but all this was during the provisional government yes during the provisional government they came and said they would search for soldiers or weapons but they did so in a very strange way they opened all the drawers of the table and dresser where no officer could hide after that we usually watched them i saw one of them thrust a hand and dig out my sister’s gold watch she didn’t wear it because it was an expensive gift from her godfather right in front of our eyes they calmly put it in their pocket that’s the bourgeoisie look what the bourgeoisie collects she wore a plain watch but this one was gold and she was very upset let’s talk about something else for now could you tell me what the philanthropic society did for example the philanthropic society was quickly abolished no before that under the tsar what did the society do the society built children’s shelters children’s institutes institutes for poor girls they paid for many children to go to the gymnasium and if the society members found out that in a certain family there was a talented boy he was sent to the gymnasium on their account did they have branches throughout russia yes my father traveled i remember it well to kaluga and torzhok and tver and yaroslavl and nizhnyi novgorod we had many people who came from there he very much liked to bring them together did the society have any kind of political leaning no it was a purely philanthropic society and did rich people middle-class everyone contribute father would come home and say to mama today i received such a good translation from mamontov he didn’t mean translation it was another way of saying gift this was the mamontov who was a patron of the theaters i don’t know maybe it was him there was a very close connection to moscow they sent to moscow for contributions too but they mainly came from petrograd petrograd was the capital now let’s get back to what you were saying about the people who came and reached into your sister’s pocket and took out the watch that’s how the searches generally went even during the provisional government yes during the provisional then in the summer we were all taken to the dacha my older sister studied bestuzhev courses vasilii wasn’t there nikolai was there though he was wounded he quickly recovered but father sent those of us who were younger to the dacha in


levashovo there was this dacha that was the property of princess vyazemskaya who was also a well-wisher who participated in the philanthropic society i heard the name vyazemskaya very often and so she presented us with the big dacha it was a big two-story dacha the family of general rendin lived below this family also had many children and we lived very peacefully there we spent the summer there until the october revolution not far from us in levashovo there was a female regiment as it was called a female battalion a female battalion we found out about this later when unexpectedly early in the morning bullets began to fly we were terrified there were shutters near the terrace and some bullets landed right there in the shutters my brother and older sister it was sunday rushed to find out what was going on it turned out that the female battalion was practicing shooting then our nanny margarita got alarmed and went for a walk with zhenya and me went to watch the female soldiers and and she began to question them how do you walk around in those pants and aren’t you ashamed and how can you walk around outside in those pants and how do you manage to do that and what are your husbands doing and why did your husbands let you go out like that she generally admonished them rather severely in the old-fashioned manner in general she was not shy about using certain expressions and she could curse us out when she needed to in this respect she was a tough old woman she lived with us up to her death her older sons one was yakov i think the other’s name was vasily i remember papa arranged for them to go to some schools and then yakov worked on the railroad on the october or nikolaev railroad yakov also helped us a lot after the revolution you returned from this dacha yes we returned many things happened there were the july events it was very frightening on the liteinyi bridge our father and mother went on foot to finland station because they needed to come to us but military units approached them because artillery divisions were gathered on liteinyi bridge they didn’t want to let them go but mama didn’t lose her presence of mind she came forward with her things and told them that they were heading to finland station to go to their children and demanded that they let them go what will you do shoot at us so they let them go mama knew what to say my mother said are you bolsheviks or not and they said go ahead go ahead quickly anyway it’s interesting that the trains were running and they arrived at the dacha after this we were very frightened when our parents left father went away anyway he had to go to work and all this continued until the october revolution it was a calm enough revolution everyone was shouting about how they took winter palace how frightening the crowds were but on liteinyi we didn’t hear anything although the smolnyi institute was very near us but the revolution was apparent because people were marching down the street with red flags singing get up rise working people now that song i learned by heart right away and


everyone was shouting death to the bourgeoisie death to the bourgeoisie and they already began to requisition goods so goods started to disappear the first to disappear was sugar and so we little ones played in the sugar aisles [laughs] later we had to stand in line for the rest of our lives then the trams started to run badly all the drivers left they were taken to the front women became drivers in the field we were shown how women drove the trams as if it were some kind of wonder this again outraged our nanny who yelled awful things how can you get on a tram that a woman is driving what am i going to ride on a deathtram in general it was very strange for us to hear that groceries were disappearing and we felt that there wasn’t enough of this and that for our big family in short we got an announcement a letter from semipalatinsk where a distant relative lived alone and again papa arranged for olya malinger to attend the institute she graduated and afterwards got married very well to a man who by chance moved to petrograd from this very semipalatinsk he was a judge father invited him to our home and he stayed for three nights and in the winter when he needed to visit olya she was studying at the institute which was located in tsarskoe selo and then this man also went to see what tsarskoe selo was like he returned from there as they say in love with olya to sum up she married him and we celebrated the wedding at our house although these were very difficult times and he took her to semipalatinsk and then this letter arrived from semipalatinsk that they had all kinds of groceries there they had white flour white bread as much as you wanted aunt sonya as she called my mama please come to us and bring everyone she passed along a special greeting to me because we had become good friends and so we decided to move of course we didn’t know how we would arrange it our nanny’s son yakov helped us he worked on the nikolaev railroad he arrnaged a special compartment for us a double one for a family and so we loaded ourselves into it and father stayed in leningrad or rather petrograd our older sister also stayed our nanny was there and you were resettled from your home no no one touched us at the time i think this is because all the servants were very well disposed toward us we could trust them with everything a watchmaker came to us to repair our clocks he said that no one should wind them or they’d be ruined he came to us with his key and wound them and we knew that the clocks were running again we had a wonderful doorman ivan egorovich downstairs he sat there at the front door of the third floor i should mention that the stairway which led to our apartment was wonderful the doorman always sat at a little table at the bottom of the stairway the stairway was covered with red carpet and if some stranger came to the doorman he asked where are you going and sometimes he said no vasily dmitrievich is away or doctor herdt a military doctor sukhovsky later lived there they all lived by our staircase and the doorman sorted out who to let in and who not to let in and an operetta singer raisova lived below us on the second floor she very often


sang in the bathroom we often heard her warming up to sing through the bathroom and i remembered that ivan egorovich kuznetsov really frightened people he’d say you’re not allowed to go in he would talk to you on the phone in his tenor voice some kinds of deputies are taking the elevator to you deputies like soldiers he said this is how he warned doctor sukhovsky who got up and left through the back entrance the apartment had a back entrance to the other stairway and the main entrance and that’s how doctor sukhovsky left the building he was a military doctor but he was afraid that he’d be arrested for his overcoat and that he’d be considered an officer so he warned raisov who always had officers over and so officers also left through the back entrance so this ivan egorovich kuznetsov did a lot of good and so we left for semipalatinsk mama took five of us children with her starting with my older sister sonya it was sonya misha then my sister nadya zhenya and i went to siberia itself it was a long trip about ten days we stopped very often we stayed for a while in novonikolaevsk which later became novosibirsk we stayed there and across from us were cars with white guards mama told us now look at those whites there and also this and that and we looked through the window our traincar our car was literally across from the car that was probably going somewhere in petrograd i doubt any of them returned here alive so we arrived in semipalatinsk it was a very small city then now it has become a big city it was on the steppes it was covered with snow it’s good that we were wearing warm clothes wait what is it called today it’s still semipalatinsk there is a space station near it it was very flat covered completely with sand and wooden houses we were so pleased to arrive at olya’s and we lived on the second floor of her house she had a two-story house at yakov filippovich pershin’s and when we had some kids over to our place on the second floor they gathered on the second floor and said wow you’re so high up and we laughed remembering our third floor in petrograd and our five-story homes surprised that the kids thought these were tall buildings all the houses here were enclosed by wooden fences and had small gardens but the street was pleasantly quiet across from us lived the big family of a doctor gurbanov who had the only large practice here he and mama had something in common because there were five of us and he had even more children he had a large family from his first wife and his second wife too this doctor gurbanov was wonderful to his patients tatars came to him all the time he spoke tatar superbly he spoke kyrgyz they were called kyrgyz but it turns out that they were kazakhs and as soon as he got out of one carriage he got into a second carriage by his porch and was then taken to another hospital the doctor helped people in many ways he came to us no matter who was sick and when my brother misha got sick he found out that brother misha had typhus and we all lived in one room there though we


got along very well with olechka she couldn’t give us more rooms because she had an unused living room and she had visitors in her dining room therefore we all lived in one room the room had no furniture at all a large trunk that came with us in the baggage served as a table we literally slept side by side on the floor two koshmas were laid there that’s what they called a felt cloth and that’s how we slept but when my brother misha got sick the doctor persuaded olya to give us the small adjoining room and misha was moved there but i don’t know how mama was able to prevent anyone else from catching typhoid this doctor was a wonderful person he never wanted to take payment for his treatment [sobbing] our relations were extremely good but of course we lived in poverty because our connections with petrograd were broken off and some money that was sent to us in the beginning stopped coming and mama didn’t know at all how she would feed all of us it’s true there was plenty of bread and it was very cheap but other groceries were not cheap we were also surprised when we found out that watermelons could only be bought by the cartload and also melons and tomatoes and you couldn’t imagine the sale of individual meat portions and also a carcass or half carcass of meat and olya’s husband’s brother-in-law yakov filippovich who was with us in petrograd we got along well with him too and he helped us a lot i don’t know what he said there but in some of the shops where mama went to get meat [crying] they let her put it on a tab and when she asked when she should pay them they said you don’t need to pay anything you have so many small children go ahead go ahead go ahead and these people were absolutely wonderful to us and this is the only way we were able to survive these people in semipalatinsk were either kyrgyz or kazakhs [continuing to cry] to this day i don’t know then there was big trouble the evacuation began kolchak’s unit came and every day we didn’t know whose hands the city was in whites or reds posters hung saying proletarians of all countries unite the city went to the reds at night there was shooting and firing and since we were on the second floor we often went down to the first floor for the night because the bullets flew in we sat in the halls because bullets could fly in through the windows next to our house beyond the fence was a big prison now we were very afraid of this proximity we were always very afraid of the prison there were some kinds of brawls and an exchange of gunfire started and ended then in the morning we never knew who would be in power today whites or reds by the way did the whites have any slogans that were analogous to the reds’ slogan proletariat of all countries unite the whites didn’t have any slogans they stayed in the city then and led horses to the watering place and sang very beautiful songs falcons soar as eagles do enough of being broken-hearted we remembered these nice songs later this song was in some play maybe in bulgakov’s white guards but they didn’t sing it quite like we did there and so later the city became permanently red and from the far away samarkandian steppe we were visited by my brother kolya who earlier


was a soldier at the front and insomuch as he had this kind of knowledge he also knew languages he helped in something like that there in general he was in good standing and in petrograd the reds were also firmly established and one could only move back with great difficulty it wasn’t the way we came here we returned to petrograd in 1923 but it was frighteningly hard for us we went in heated freight cars half was ours and half was another family’s the only way we got lucky was that we were able to get ration cards they gave us a pot and a large can and we were given soup and kasha at the stations i can’t even imagine now how the government could organize this kind of nutrition along the road and at that time everything was in such economic ruin we returned to our own apartment our apartment was completely free that is not occupied our nanny preserved the apartment she found some latvian student we always had such students i remember his last name blaugo it was such a neat last name he helped her there in some way living in the kitchen just as she did our father often spent the night so that he wouldn’t need to burn as much he collected all kinds of sticks from fences and with these they lit the stove therefore it was warm in the kitchen and what did your father do after your departure i forgot to tell you what happened after our departure seryozha terekhov in the time of the bolsheviks was a kind of high-ranking official at the beginning he began to set up father and he made him a lecturer at Pobalt this was the political department of the baltic fleet he began to give lectures about nekrasov about russian literature he was very well liked by the listeners they wouldn’t let him leave he was given a ration for a loaf of bread which he brought home in a bag then seryozha terekhov arranged for us to be given an enormous pitcher of bean soup and a loaf of bread for the performers we went there with our brother zhenya there was no one else who could go on foot we took it home of course for our family it wasn’t very much but it was something there were hot days my brother zhenya and i went out for soup in our bare feet and when we went to school i was three years younger than zhenya but the gap in the classes was only a year because i read very well and insofar as our conditions weren’t very healthy the school doctor sent us to a special dining room which america supported the american red cross organized a wonderful dining room for starving children in petrograd once a day right after school we went there with our pots and were given a little corn gruel for the first time i found out what corn gruel was it’s a kind of special millet but in general we were full and mama was reassured that although we were tired when we left school we made it to the greek circus where we fed ourselves doctor malinin organized everything and led us there the first winter and then the second winter and so for two winters in 1923 and 1924 we went to this american food supply it was called the american girl by the children whose health was damaged by anemia doctor malinin thought they needed to go there in 1924 in petrograd there was a terrifying flood just like the one pushkin described in the bronze horseman the flood started


on september 23 it was frightfully strong the schools couldn’t open and father worked then at the archive not far from the neva and he lost the whole night there there was no telephone and mama found out with great difficulty that he was still there and he got a cold there and therefore after 1924 after this flood his pleurisy advanced to such a stage that no one could hire him and in 1925 he died he was 55 and what was he doing during the flood he was carrying books organizing their rescue he could not do otherwise and that september he was in contact with water the water flooded the archives he walked through water up to his waist because the lower floors were flooded water stood there and he needed to take everything upstairs he saved the books he saved books documents and archival materials that were very much needed was it a government archive yes it was a government archive probably the most important archive clearly the most important it was opposite winter palace therefore it was considered the main one [crying] you couldn’t quit your job there of course when papa passed away we fussed for a long time to get his pension this pension was very small nothing was set aside for me mama and my brother he was already fourteen vasya went to work in a railroad workshop and at the same time he started to study at the electrotechnical institute and my brother nikolai besides his studies at the institute worked as a night cashier at gambling clubs he went there nights to work i was very frightened that he was went there nights and didn’t return until the morning but there was no other way and my sister helped she was the one who was an assistant at the botanical garden of the agricultural institute and the institute was in tsarskoe selo there we had another misfortune our old nanny died [crying] she was very old she was over 90 and we were very sad [crying] that she was no longer with us she didn’t just give us moral support she was also so resilient she knew everything she knew how to make potato lepyoshka where to get fuel how to clean millet that seemed completely inedible but she knew how to grind it after she died it became very dreary here my brother yasha rescued us he had very good handwriting and was taken into the stat bureau what is that the regional bureau of statistics and my older sister taught music and french why french since the bourgeoisie knew french that meant we also needed to know it any other languages


she also taught german she didn’t take any money from the doorman’s children and she had a fiancé vasya zhuravsky he went outside and was killed his coat was stolen and his skull was broken and my sister [crying] never got married i continued to study at school we had our first volunteer saturday in 1924 they brought us to summer garden that beauty of our city where everything was destroyed after the flood many trees were destroyed and we helped clear them then we were asked to write an essay about this and mine was the best [crying] papa didn’t know about this yet and in general there was a competition in our family who was dolgoruky peter the third history was taught very badly in soviet schools the kids often read some kind of summary like a short course school children had no idea what this or that building was where it came from who was salat tikhin under peter the great and what building was this and i needed to explain and i literally led a tour of leningrad explaining to our schoolchildren in general i studied diligently give me some kind of tricky question let’s say about peter the second and peter the third catherine the great was the wife of peter the third whose son was peter the second elizaveta’s elizaveta was childless he was her nephew the thing is peter the great had two daughters elizaveta and anna elizaveta stayed in petersburg but peter managed to marry anna to the duke of holstein now this same anna had a son who was summoned by elizaveta he was peter the third and peter the second was the son of peter the great’s actual son alexey petrovich whom peter tried to kill during an interrogation he was also unjustly killed but peter the second lived longer he died from smallpox or some other disease one of the menshikov daughters was peter the second’s bride she was very beautiful surikov drew her menshikov was exiled to siberia she went with him such a sad beautiful childlike face so tell me about school zhenya and i were both good students in general there was a new trend in school to find out students’ abilities and potential from the beginning we were given certain tests i remember it was the american influence there was tic-tac-toe and then some kind of result was tallied they deduced the abilities of a child his gifts and so on but then we didn’t like it because to be honest most of the children taking these tests who were from the so-called proletariat showed complete illiteracy and ignorance they couldn’t answer the simplest questions and therefore they began to say that this was economic sabotage that there were gifted children and undeveloped children and so on in short this pedagogical deviation began to be persecuted but i still wound up in a normal school where the teachers were from the old third of the gymnasium where my brother studied earlier our history course was social science we were taught manufacturing how capitalism was created but if you asked something about potemkin villages what they were and why they existed


or about winter palace the children didn’t know anything about this i remember when one of my friends read lazhechnikov’s house of ice so i told her for a long time what the house of ice was because it was here in petersburg all the same and it was described on the neva and historically it was a well-known work of lazhechnikov a classic but only five or six people could say that it actually was a true incident that was described in the novel russian writers were also taught very little they’d teach a little about turgenev they’d only go over bezhin meadow where there are peasant children well and fathers and sons the rest of his novels they only mentioned in short it was not a ninth-grade education and there were nothing but pitiful scraps of literature and history so to speak we were given a respectable amount of mathematics relying specifically on the textbooks as far as social studies it was called general studies it’s interesting that in the last two classes the teacher prokhorovsky came to us he taught us what was later called party history he told us about the first second and third congresses and in general asked such identical questions and when he asked what the bolsheviks said in the third congress everyone had to shout that the bolsheviks did not yet exist during the third congress that is at the second congress in general it was a kind of game and not learning but nevertheless this was a kind of beginning of political education but it was not very much for human culture they added works of artists musical works nobody knew anything and in general it was surprising the degree to which school drifted into such false brotherhood and such surprising misunderstanding of life in general nevertheless we finished school nine grades we moved a lot after school of course zhenya and i tried to enroll somewhere zhenya tried twice to enter the university he did spectacularly well on his exams but he was not accepted they didn’t care they rejected him for class reasons although we wrote down that we were from the petty nobility that our father had died long ago we weren’t accepted anyway the same thing happened with me i passed the exams for medical school prepared well i remember that i answered many questions very smoothly the teachers who gave me the exam were satisfied but then i wasn’t included in the lists and when i went to look at the lists and there was a girl with me who was also upset and when our names didn’t appear we ran to ask how could this happen to us we were told that someone in our families had received a higher education it is not necessary for you because we had to write down who studies where in short they suggested that i look for an institute with a shortage and despite the fact that proletarian culture was on the rise the shortage was in an agricultural institute where people went unwillingly and a veterinary institute i didn’t go to the veterinary instititute and to this day i regret it because i really love animals but i went to the agricultural institute and many other people also went there who weren’t able to enroll in a university these people included my future husband vladimir mikhailovich kartavin he took his exams for the gornyi institute where


he also wasn’t accepted because his father was a professor but we only studied for a year at the agricultural institute after this year it turned out that a new department of geology and soil at the university had opened to enroll you needed to pass exams in geology and soil science and crystallography, which we hadn’t even touched on in the agricultural institute but we started working and anyway there were twenty-one people from the agricultural institute and we enrolled in the new department we were then called newcomers from the agricultural institute and we began to study there of course it made us closer that we were all in the same boat none of us received stipends this was a time when stipends were awarded at a general assembly of students but these general assemblies were always unfair they also wanted to award my sister nadya who studied at the chemistry institute a stipend but one of her girlfriends who used to visit us said are you really going to give nadya kartavina a stipend they have such fortunate circumstances they have this piano they have this three-sided mirror and they made it so that my sister wasn’t given a stipend no matter how hard i worked i never received a stipend either and our zhenya only enrolled in the railroad technical school because he decided not to apply to the university a third time so he entered the technical institute on borodinskaya street but he later worked almost as though he had graduated the institute but he was nevertheless very upset about this so that’s how we studied and lived then this was already around 1933 then the difficult years began they started to arrest scientific workers they took my husband’s father away he was a professor at the agricultural institute there were crop failures of some kinds of fodder and he was convicted of incorrectly teaching the students and he was arrested and sent to siberia to the town of achinsk and volodya was alone and i married him we got married in 1933 and in 1934 our daughter tatyanka [crying] was born at first we went on expeditions to saltwater lakes it was wonderful there and the work was interesting we drilled boreholes and installed wells 10-15 feet deep we installed funnels in different places for collecting liquid that fell from the soil because the soil was awfully clogged so we performed tasks like soil desalination that is removing the salt from it and the results were very interesting we were so surprised when vladimir mikhailovich disappeared during an expedition i went out of my mind not even knowing what to think i went to all the police stations suddenly one fine nightmarish day late in the evening i got a call from someone in leningrad the phone hadn’t been installed by us but by the resident ivan kirillovich who was a very important military man and the person on the phone said in a latvian accent if you want to see your husband then fly immediately to kresty prison i’ll write you a pass and you can see him there i understood that my husband had been arrested and he was in leningrad itself and i ran at night the drawbridges were still not divided and i ran across liteinyi bridge it wasn’t very far to run but i was frightened all the same i ran to the fortress and was given the pass and


saw my husband there i was warned that it was forbidden to ask why he was arrested and what he did and that i should only talk about our daughter how her health was that she was almost three he didn’t say anything like this only that when he was released i should bring warm clothing right then i had such a hope that at least he hadn’t been killed in general i had thought he was no longer alive but three years had passed since he disappeared with this i went home and started to make inquiries they told me where to bring money sixty rubles could be handed over twice a month the parcel was heavy not by weight but because you needed to stand in line starting at 4:00 in the morning because an enormous amount of people gathered so many people were arrested that they took packages only for arrestees with last names starting with a certain letter each day of the month let’s say the letter “b” this kind of day was the hardest to fall on i was then working at the school after my husband was arrested i had nowhere to go and i was left without work and i was hired by the school since there weren’t enough teachers with a higher education i taught geography and it was very hard for me [crying] to get permission from the director to take time off from work of course she knew that my husband had been arrested she asked me every time where is your husband and i told her that my husband was in the fortress aha i see then come to my office and write all of this down on a piece of paper well but what should i write down just write down everything i don’t know what everything meant but i wrote down on thus and such day my husband left on an expedition after this i looked for him for a long time finally i found out that he was located in the fortress and so i needed to bring him packages while they were taken in general she was a frightening character she was an unbelievably unpleasant person i had all kinds of directors but this person was extremely nasty and hypercritical every time such humiliations i had to endure [crying] when i had to excuse myself whenever i couldn’t come to school in the morning all my friends and colleagues knowing my situation replaced me in my classes the math teacher the russian teacher would do this or someone else of course later on i would try to substitute for them too if they ever needed it but i had to sit with her for a very long time she would leave and say wait now i need to think and she would go into her office then she would say to my face how i want to refuse you oh how i want to refuse you well all right let’s see what happens all right go and then i had to run early in the morning almost without having slept across the drawbridge before it divided and i could start standing in line as soon as possible the lines were very tough women often walked away from the little window shouting and crying when they were told that the person was not there and had gotten ten years without the right to correspond this meant he was shot everyone understood this very well the woman fell to her knees and we went out onto the street and with great difficulty called her family so that they would come for her these were terribly difficult days but packages were constantly picked up and


once they took mine i could go to school calmly if they took sixty rubles it meant that he was alive and was buying himself cigarettes or onions or something like that and would somehow live but later i would be told that they wouldn’t take the package but i should come to some transit prison i remembered him saying that i needed to bring something warm i started to think about getting something warm and then our neighbor gave them to me sukhovskaya whose doctor a military doctor was arrested a long time ago sent to solovki to the white sea canal and she also had these kinds of warm things and she was experienced at this in general in our building of the philanthropic society i think there was no apartment where anyone wasn’t welcome to visit so sukhovskaya helped me tremendously she gave me large felt boots then a warm sweater of thick camel-hair there was something else warm and so i took all of this to pass along to vladimir mikhailovich i also took my daughter along because i was told i could take my child along to see but my daughter was already almost three years old of course he was behind the bars she barely recognized him of course he gazed at her then she burst into tears it was very crowded and uncomfortable there and somehow with the sound of her crying we couldn’t say anything to each other and so he left me forever and i never saw him again and on all those résumés where is your husband i had to write repressed repressed repressed working at school was a comfort at school i worked with pleasure when i went to school all of these awful sufferings somehow drifted away from me right away i saw the children’s pleasant little faces and i knew that today i would tell them something interesting and the children liked me a lot speaking truthfully there was not a student [crying] who didn’t say that i was their favorite teacher honestly all the students who passed through my classroom you taught geography i only taught geography but when teachers were absent i would substitute for them i substituted for the history and botany teachers since i had worked as a botanist on expeditions i also substituted for the chemistry teacher since i knew chemistry in general i knew biology in this sense i was very useful to the school since i easily dealt with any task they sat me down and let me try to prepare a syllabus i started to write syllabi at this time our director of studies left and they suggested i become the new director but then some teachers rose up who thought i was jewish that i was secretly jewish and that my résumé was all the more terrible and they went and although the head considered but you aren’t jewish and nor was your husband my husband’s mother natalya adolfovna was jewish what an awful combination of names natalya adolfovna adolfovna meant that she was a gatchina jew germans and jews lived in gatchina then i left that school and transferred to another because my school was a seven-year school and i transferred to a ten-year school of course it was strange for me to hang around teaching only the seven grades which didn’t cover proper geography when eighth and ninth


grades covered actual geography well it was more interesting with them and when i was at that school the war came it was the school near mariinsky theater number 259 then they suddenly remembered that kartavina although she had that bad résumé she could still organize something and they arranged to transport the children from leningrad and they gave me a large group from our school to be honest i don’t know who was such a fool but they assigned us to evacuate to the moscow environs to a city near yaroslavl besides they assigned a strict inventory of items that the children had a right to take nothing warm nothing extra only small packages you had to keep in mind that winter was coming maybe the children would grow and the quantity of their possessions was restricted but some enterprising mamas stuck big packages into the traincar and said here’s some warm clothing here i stuffed in some boots just in case and i took a fur coat for my three-yearold daughter not actually a fur coat but a little warm coat and i myself was wearing a fall coat because i couldn’t wear a fur coat a teacher couldn’t be seen taking a fur coat or anything else on the road for herself i traveled in a thin autumn coat and so we were sent at first from the big city so to speak near yaroslavl to gavrilov-yam and it was a great village we arrived in the summer leningrad had already been bombed and literally when we had just gotten there in september or october, an order to dig anti-tank trenches suddenly came and big trenches were dug all around our area a former zoology technical institute and bombs were falling and then suddenly our retreating red soviet units appeared and the commanders were horrified why are these children here when according to the plan there is a big zoological technical institute building and they came to this building and suddenly they found more than a hundred children here these were all my kids of different ages the oldest were only in the seventh grade and there were twenty-one preschoolers there were brothers and sisters that we needed not to separate and we were taking twenty-one preschoolers and seventy-nine schoolchildren together pell mell with great difficulty but everyone was cheerful everyone was fed and no one had gotten sick so far the military personnel were horrified you need to evacuate them immediately but it was already too late because the personnel were already at gavrilov-yam the germans were already flying over to bomb the trains they were flying to bomb yaroslavl on the way to moscow we were ordered to get dressed and prepare to take our bags again without sleeping without taking off our coats instead of beds we were put on some kind of planks under some kind of fences and as soon as a dark night came we were told to load our things and then raids began and the children were sent back to those plank beds underground finally rainy weather came such a light drizzle and they started shoving us into a red traincar here something interesting happened a few mothers came toward us then there was another order from a very smart man not really under no circumstances should mothers take their children otherwise other mothers would resent it that these women went while they couldn’t but i understood


this was such a silly thing how could this mother who came and found her child here how can i leave her in this village under bombardment but take her son without her therefore at least three mothers sat near me it’s true it’s interesting that one of these women was the wife of a prominent worker named kuznetsov i found her documents and wrote down that she had to go to thus and such place i sat her and the others there i also sat klava solomonovna golshmaker and also basin and they gave me extraordinary help on the way without them i would have been done for because this same kuznetsova whom i seated in the second car we had two heated cars at the halfway point she got out she found her relatives and she traveled to them and on the way got out with her nanny and two children and left the car completely without adults it’s good that they were there that this klava solomonovna was there and basya they sat in that car and there they came to my aid and we went further and so we were taken to the city yurzlovsk in the tyumen region the village pidkov a little more than 25 miles from yurzlovsk thick forests snow cold no big accommodations we were put in some little house but it was very scary the way the children were moved because there was a terrible frost trucks came behind us the children had been seated there they put their things in and then they were taken somewhere and suddenly one car with a few children everyone arrived but these children were not there the car lost its way i was very worried because i knew that four weak boys were riding in this car there was kolya nikitin and zhenehcka smotritskaya thrown at me in the traincar back in petrograd completely without any luggage her papa brought her he was arguing with her mama and they decided that papa should send the girl himself he literally carried her she was four years old she was just wrapped up any which way with some kind of toy and shoved toward me on the train and as always i tormented myself over her that she had no blanket or pillow or boots and in general this zhenechka was riding on this truck and all the same the children made it everyone planned to house us at some school why i’ll tell you now first of all the school was very cold they immediately began to heat all the stoves of course there were no beds there we were put on tables we slept any which way on tables and that was it but the first night when the parents and my faithful helpers were lying with the children in one room and i had already gottten twenty-one preschoolers among the little ones another office that seemed to be for zoology something like that there was a skeleton standing in it that really frightened the children and suddenly unexpectedly at night completely unexpectedly why i don’t know because i woke up and i sense that one of the older little girls with me it was zoya fedoseeva she suddenly says that the boys were smoking honest to god all of them were smoking these boys who were trying to smoke weren’t especially successful people krasnov was one of them and another with a different last name i don’t remember now and suddenly i see that on a table where one girl sonya shagalova was sleeping leaning against the stove a blue fire is running along this table it’s burning the table down it turned out that the stove


was melted and the stove had cracks and to make it warmer the coal was moved to the back wall in such a way that from the back wall the table had become inflamed and was burning with a blue flame and a frightening smell of burning wood and the children were all lying there and on top of that it was so crowded that it was extremely hard to make it to the door i grabbed a teapot that i took just in case with water in it if the children got thirsty and poured it directly on sonya sonya woke up in a fright her stockings were burning there was no light there was no kerosene lamp somehow zoya sverdlova good girl ran in order to move to the roof and it turned out that to this day i don’t know why this was that we were locked from outside that is a piece of iron was shoved against it so we couldn’t open it from inside why this was done why we were locked in locked from the outside we quickly put out the fire some of the children didn’t even wake up they were tired from the cold and from all this movement from place to place only in the morning they were surprised to see the burnt floor to see the burnt table and they listened to sonya who poor thing told how her last stockings were burnt that’s how we survived here in the village pitkovo i started teaching geography again they actually had no teachers as there should be there were some not very educated or cultured teachers around and it was very hard for me to teach with them the hardest part was when i taught not looking at any papers then some chief important uncle from omsk would arrive someone from the education committee would look at my hands but i told them about indigenous volcanos about pompei about buried cities pompei and herculaneum told them what a volcano is how they’ve been excavated later after that after the lesson he told me of course all of this was very interesting but how can the children trust that you’re not telling them lies after all you were not looking at anything there was no book in front of you do you really think i’ll believe that you got all this from your head that the children should believe that you’re giving them actual science from a book you didn’t look at anything you wove all of this together looked first at this then at that then at a girl then you looked at me then over there this was the kind of inspector i had so that was very hard but still we made ourselves at home then it turned out there was another circumstance also frightening there was not just one leningrad school in this village piktovo there was also a second school and they had a bad outbreak of measles and it began with little children the children began to get sick with measles but when i arrived from petrograd my brother nikolai gave me a little medicine chest and a good book on children’s diseases by professor krasno-something i don’t remember maslova yes maslova and so i thought what will i do if it’s measles and then i took a big bottle of mouthwash and made the children rinse their mouths with it before going to school in general i couldn’t do anything else but the most frightening thing was that these prechoolers who were sick with measles and weren’t from my school started to get colds and


inflamed lungs after measles led to death and twenty-one of the preschoolers died i couldn’t imagine how she could then look their parents in the eyes [crying] the little children were so nice and i remember she drove to order little coffins for them twenty-one lives lost to measles in wartime then i went to barnaul dormitories were already starting to merge there several parents managed to come to me they collected their children some of them continued living there we were already living in apartments and things became easier but with one boy i won’t give his name things were especially difficult he had children’s diuresis he usually urinated at night it was very hard for me to handle this then his mama arrived and it’s very good that she took him away the kids didn’t understand this disease and teased him he suffered a great deal a leningrad agricultural institute from pushkin moved to barnaul and then my sister came she brought our mother and my sister nadya and started to invite me there and with great difficulty i was able to move myself and my daughter and we were brought to the station in such an interesting train it was 25 miles to the station we went in a little traincar which dragged a tractor this little car sometimes stopped in the forest and we saw wolves they came up very close to us there were many wolves we saw their eyes we saw them running back and forth from one place to another and the people from leningrad were very frightened but i no longer had big children with me i only had my daughter and my sister took me to the department of soil study at the agriculture institute in barnaul since i had graduated from a geology-soil study institute and a job was found for my sister too she was in the chemistry department and did office work since she had beautiful handwriting in general everyone in our family except for me had beautiful handwriting because father forced us he said that writing beautifully and quickly was a sign of an intellectual only zhenya and i wrote carelessly because we didn’t have notebooks and there was never any time to supervise our penmanship i have to mention that i started to help myself in this way when i was at the institute i wrote two papers one was a purely geographical paper about our allies so to speak about america and england since i am a geographer this was very easy well some students heard about this and in barnaul there were many servicemen there was a mass of captured german soldiers and there was therefore a big garrison and this garrison started sending an order to the director of the institute you have a lecturer let him come to our command unit and read a paper tell us about our allies and so i started to be driven to these lectures i have to say my lectures were very successful and i was paid with additional rations and taken by car in this icy winter and was brought directly to a sweets shop with some kind of inexpensive candy it was a great support but the biggest support was when the war was over and we started to return my older sister went to alma-atu with her husband they got an assignment there and mama and nadya received an invitation from leningrad this was arranged by my brother kolya and because i had a


different last name i stayed and tanya and i were very depressed when mama and nadya left it was helpful that there were some military men in the garrison who were well disposed to me and one of them a major margolin arranged for me to get a non-stop train ticket to moscow with no transfer in novosibirsk this was very rare only one traincar was sent and he was able to arrange this for me and helped me with transportation and i parted with him with such good feelings [crying] he was very well disposed toward me but of course with such a résumé with such a past i couldn’t think about future ties therefore i completely rejected everyone up to this point up and everyone after too because to get married to a man and to suddenly write on a résumé that your husband was repressed this was too dishonorable and then i arrived in leningrad again and literally right then joined the school they didn’t have enough teachers so i joined the school at which i worked right up until my departure to america could you say a few words about your husband you said he was in kazakhstan and tanya came to him and excuse me but what happened to your father my father died in exile yes father died in exile very quickly after finding this out my mother died in leningrad and vladimir mikhailovich wound up in alma-ata and set himself up in a soil science institute he gave lectures there his brilliant qualities helped him of course he made a great impression there the institute had a kazakh director sabaev he literally passed all his duties along to him and the real director of the institute was kartavin and not sabaev kartavin set up a conference of soil scientists he gave papers in english which he knew from childhood unlike me and later my daugher tatyanka came to him there she was then in tenth grade at school so they saw each other there he told her something but he couldn’t return he had such a punishment there was a list of cities and he could not return to moscow leningrad and other major cities he himself was afraid to come so he stayed there to work [crying] to the last day of his life when did he die in 1954 you were a schoolteacher were you glad that you were just a teacher and never joined the party no no no and after the war you were no longer persecuted after the war i was in a school where they didn’t pay special attention to what kind of résumé i had i had a friend i could entrust tatyana and myself to he worked as an engineer in a frighteningly secret war factory so you lived a normal life and taught geography in the upper classes yes geography


and you went to america because tanya went there tanya got married to a jew yuri borisovich and my granddaughter katya grew up and she also married a jew and when did they emigrate first katya did she studied at the polytechnic institute in the computer science department and there were many foreigners who for some reason thought that computers were better in the soviet union than in america there were dark-skinned hindus from africa who also took the bait that soviet computers were better but i have to say that they didn’t study very well there because when katya went there she realized what genuine computer courses were like they left but after this yuri began to experience unpleasantness at the institute tatyana defended her dissertation on botany and did so pretty well but yura wrote a wonderful book a real doctoral dissertation but as soon as he mentioned in the department that he needed to defend it at that time his relations with them became icy and he realized that he’d never make it there but tatyana was russian the thing is she was russian but tarnished because she had a jewish husband and katya was half jewish and did you have any regrets when you left no i had no regrets it was no longer the leningrad i had loved and the people weren’t the same [crying] of course i had no regrets it’s wonderful here and america has welcomed me so many times and i think it’s not the first time america helped me but you have some sort of feeling i miss my city [crying] so you have a feeling of resentment toward i feel very bitter toward my husband’s boss [continuing to cry] who wrote a false denunciation of him when my husband met with tatyana he told her that someone named krivda a ukrainian name krivda he took all his work on these saline splits he wrote that vladimir mikhailovich conducted work among kazakhs and kyrgyz and encouraged them to separate from the soviet union and this was held against him and vladimir knew this very well and he warned tatyana that krivda my former boss if you make contact with this person keep in mind that i was arrested because of him where did krivda turn up in leningrad krivda wound up in the academy of sciences in the soil science institute in moscow and how did he die he is no longer alive i don’t know i don’t know he denounced him to take away his work yes to take my husband’s genuine scientific work he took his work and they knew this at the institute and looked askance at krivda there so did your husband end up defending his doctoral dissertation or not


good lord he was a professor he was elected an associate member of the kazakh academy his books were wonderful when he died he was the director of the soil science institute in alma-ata he was buried there and is remembered and your daughter is a doctor of sciences in botany yes in botany but in general the longer we live the more slights we receive slights slights slights slights all your life it’s awful being slighted you like it here though you feel good here don’t you yes i feel good here that’s clear and people here are very good to me

Chapter 22 Yulia

My mother rejected the West immediately and unreservedly. She caught up with us in Rome. We weren’t togther in Vienna, but her letters, sent from Vienna, were retold to me. They were unpleasant, malicious, abusive, and she disparaged everything she saw indiscriminately. She developed a steadfast, inexplicable, no less than schizophrenic incomprehension and displeasure at a different world. She was like a severed branch: she experienced no excitement whatsoever from anything she saw. The trading of the sheets, blankets, towels, and other items specially brought to Rome to sell, which are trifles to Americans. Bargaining, which she always hated, scorned, and never did or had any idea how to do, clearly wasn’t to her taste: “What in the world did we come here for! Haggling in a bazaar! A disgrace! A disgrace! Look at these immigrants!” She wanted to sell everything right away, in fifteen minutes, for any price, so as to leave the bazaar as soon as possible. This called forth protests from those selling goods nearby: “What are you doing? You’re lowering the prices! We won’t be able to sell anything because of you!” My mother became a black sheep from the very beginning, quarreling and fighting with everyone. Her inborn animation and tempestuous energy found no outlet. She had only Russian and Yiddish at her disposal, which limited her ability to make contact with people and express herself. She couldn't speak German in Vienna, Italian in Italy, or English in America. Living in an American environment that was clearly below her, in subsidized housing, where the majority of residents, originally from the earliest wave of Jewish emigration, with almost no education, clipped coupons from the newspapers and played lotto every day, she felt out of place, idle, and considered her life here empty, worthless and petty. From the


first day, mother dreamed of returning home, cursing the day she arrived in America. Her connections with local communists settled her down in a certain way. And not only with local ones. At a concert commemorating the October Revolution on November 7, she said in the first row between Angela Davis and Gus Hall, and was extremely proud of this. They were ready to give her a membership in the American Communist Party! Maybe she even did get one. She tried to find some kind of activity for herself. She could get up at five in the morning and ride the first bus or train into the city, downtown, to demand and obtain something in some office, raising a fuss and leading everyone into a white heat, in this manner letting off steam from her boiling, unused energy and malice. It was pure hell. Mother hated everyone around her: she hated my family, hated the materialist striving that gripped everyone here, and it seemed to me that she hated me, too, the source of all her misfortune. I wrote a poem then: “Birches guard my father’s grave; forgive me, mother, forgive a scoundrel who brought you here to a foreign land to die. Forgive me, mother!” By the way, she had no plans to die, and her health was better than ever. She went to doctors, of course, as all immigrants here do, but mostly from having nothing else to do. Mama played the most active possible role in my destiny here. My whole life, starting with my first classes at school, was controlled and directed by her. And let’s not even talk about my medical career! Every step in it, every rung, from my first job to my candidacy dissertation, all my aspirations, dreams, presentations and articles, all my problems were to the same degree mine and hers. She knew all my colleagues, bosses, friends and enemies. She supported me in the most difficult situations, always considering me to be in the right or insulted by someone, not hesitating to personally intervene for me, to go to Ivan Alekseevich or Nikolai Stepanovich, making use of all her experience and connections. With her, I felt like I was behind a brick wall. Mama could send me a telegram in Sochi, “Return home no later than August 31. On September 1 you’re starting a new position,” and it was all organized with no input whatsoever from me. In America, especially in the early days, I needed her help. But here she was absolutely powerless, and not just from lack of knowledge of the language. She was powerless because she didn’t know people, customs, simply speaking, life. She could still do something, though. She walked to the post office every day at the crack of dawn, expecting a letter with the results of my exam confirming my status as a doctor, which was very important for my whole medical career in America. They already knew her at the post office, and nobody threw out the elderly little 70-year-old woman. The postman serving our house was supposed to bring us a letter with the result – pass or fail – and my mother persuaded him somehow, God knows how with her English, to show her our mail, and he showed her and handed over our letters. She called me


at work and yelled into the phone, “There’s a letter! There’s a letter! Come home immediately!” I rushed home from work, making some kind of excuse, and opened the envelope in front of her. In this damned letter they announced that I had failed the exam, and then something unbelievable happened to her. She suffered more than I did; she cried and tore her hair. The same day we were riding in the car, Luisa sitting next to me and mama in the back, and mother blamed Luisa for my failure, although I and I alone was at fault. But it was impossible to change her mind. I couldn’t be at fault! I had never been at fault in Kharkov and I couldn’t be at fault here either, except maybe for bringing her here. Word after word, the situation reached a fever pitch. Answering her accusations, Luisa shouted, “You are three years older than your husband, Alexander Vladimirovich, and you had a lover during the war. I read your letters to him. You betrayed Alexander Vladimirovich! You’re a horrible bitch!” Mother, in a fury, hit Luisa on the head and neck. Luisa screeched and tried to defend herself by grabbing hold of her hair. I sat at the wheel, also shouting, not having the strength to separate them and calm them down. I sensed that if this continued much longer, I would either go out of my mind or have a heart attack and depart this world, like my father. And here’s where the episode with Yulia began. Mother hated Luisa and my older brother Sasha’s wife her whole life, and was always at loggerheads with them. Her main object in life after the death of my father was to keep us, her two sons, close to her by any means, no matter what. Mother wanted me and my brother to be near her and get satisfaction from that. And it really was that way. I was 46 years old when I met Yulia. My devotion to my mother was constant and unchanging, despite her attitude toward America and my family. When Yulia appeared, my first thought was that my mother, hating my wife, would be favorably inclined toward her. I couldn’t hide this affair from my mother. In general I never hid anything from her my whole life, and never had any desire to. Naturally, my mother sized Yulia up at first, studying her, if I can express it that way. Once she said in passing, “She doesn’t say ‘thank you’ after dinner.” Yulia and I visited mother, and an aura immediately appeared, not in words, but rather in a kind of tension and hunch in my mother’s back. She seemed to be stooping even more, and I felt that a hidden hostility appeared between them. Yulia, knowing my relations with my mother, didn’t speak her mind or oppose mama, but for the most part held her tongue. But I also saw no enthusiasm from mama’s side. She would have been happier if I had come alone, but there was nowhere else for Yulia and me to go: everyone had turned away from us. The alignment of forces was as simple as could be. I was married, Yulia was married, nobody was planning a revolution, and my


mother was still my mother. As in preference, everyone remained at even hands. All of this continued until Luisa found out everything, and then everything immediately changed, exploding in a scandal, like in the beginning of Anna Karenina, and all interested parties needed to take a firm position. It was impossible to keep silent or sit it out. My mother from the beginning sided with Luisa, whom she had always hated. I chose Yulia, Yulia chose me, and we ran away to go skiing, and Luisa entered into negotiations with Yulia’s husband, so as to punish the rebels as harshly as possible. With all of this noise and fuss, all the thunder and lightning, everyone had his own hidden interest, his temptation, his hopes. With all the differences of the characters and positions, and everyone’s inner and outer relations toward each other, the basic aspirations of the three main characters who were taking up arms against us coincided. Each of them in the depths of their hearts hoped that everything would end on its own, that the passions of the mad, stubborn lovers would eventually cool off, like compote that has just been boiled, giving way to prudence and a sense of responsibility before their wife, husband, and children. My mother hoped for me to break with Yulia most of all, but things weren’t so simple. The feeling that had gripped me from the very beginning was very powerful and extraordinary, almost mystical and even mythical. Myths come from our childhood. With age, with the layer of events that seem most important and significant, facts, pictures, “people and positions,” characters and heroes become so distant and hazy that only approximate features, illusions, play, some kind of puff of wind, an immaterial substance lodged in the unconscious, remains of them. And if we speak of myth, then it only awaits its hour, its minute, its moment, in order for this myth, like a bolt of lightning, to be transformed into reality, to be made into part of the past, part of the inflexible truly mythological feeling that goes beyond the limits of the expected and comprehensible, the usual and predictable. Yulia returned me to my origins. Her large, prominent, black eyes, thin face, and curly black hair, opened a road straight to paradise, to those childish and adolescent tents where purity and innocence, undying romanticism and unreal happiness reigned, to me, a 46-year-old man who had already survived and experienced so much in his time. I think that Yulia’s appearance, which battered me, in my condition of inner readiness, with unexpected passion, reignited my first love in a new, bright light. This love had never faded, or more accurately, had lain dormant within me since childhood. Everything else seemed second-rate, nonexistent, and timeless to me, and was carried beyond the parentheses, cast aside and rejected. All of my will, thoughts, and efforts were concentrated on one thing. In this incomprehensible time, which falls to the fate of everyone perhaps once in a lifetime, I wrote the


following lines: “I betrayed everyone around me, and all because of you alone.” My myth creation began from the first minutes, from the very moment when I first saw her. It seemed to me that her face, and especially her eyes, resembled those of Kramskoi’s “Portrait of an Unknown Woman.” The association was fleeting, unconscious, and most likely absurd, but I told her about it right away. This continued. I began to follow her, brazenly starting conversations with her at every opportunity, trying to demonstrate my erudition, asking her stupid, degrading questions. For some reason she did not resist them very much, and conducted herself evenly, calmly, and politely, as though not noticing anything strange. I plied her with questions about all kinds of details about her life and offered my services, whenever I thought I could help her in some way. Precisely at this time, she was learning to drive with an instructor, and I took it upon myself to teach her how to park so I could sit next to her, “to see you even once a week.” In general, I would have taught her anything she liked: skydiving by parachute, yoga, ping-pong, riding a motorcycle, and God knows what else. In the car during our lessons, away from everyone’s sight, I could relax and be a little bolder. Our lessons went well, but unfortunately, fast: she quickly mastered parking in three half-hour sessions. I had some pleasant minutes that I later remembered, lying in bed and giving free rein to my fantasies. In order to change places with her in the front seats, I suggested that she not get out of the car but move across me, which I liked very much. But I didn’t fantasize for much longer. Parking for the last time and cutting off my stream of endless eloquence, she said firmly, turning her head to me: “I know what these conversations lead to. I have a good husband and family. I don’t need anything, I don’t need to have an affair. Good-bye.” After saying this, she got out of the car, and I sat there as if I had been spit on, angry not at her but at myself: “I didn’t dare, I didn’t dare, I didn’t dare… what didn’t I dare do? Imagine what she must think of me! That I’m some kind of Lovelace, a seducer, a libertine, lusting after other men’s wives! She shut me up and left!” Not seeing her was painful. I didn’t wait at her entrance or seek chance meetings. Summer came, a hot, stuffy, frightening summer that seemed worse than any that Chicago had ever experienced. All of us Russian immigrants crowded and clustered in a small patch of the park leading to the lake that saved us from the unprecedented, unheard of heat. How many of us were there? 1,000? 2,000? How many? I didn’t count. Everyone came after 6:00 or 7:00 in the evening and sat by the lake until midnight, no, sat in the lake. It seemed to me that all of us were there. It was impossible to bear this heat without the lake, impossible to survive it. Everyone was there, but she was not. Like a lunatic, I wandered around the park, from tree to tree, bush to bush, from one group of people to another, looking for her. I wanted to see her, but she was nowhere to be found. It was as if she had vanished into thin air! Had


she actually died? I knew that she had begun her residency; I had already been through that myself. Yes, you often had to work 36 hours in a row, but there were still one or two evenings a week when you could find time to go to the lake in the evening! On the other hand, if she had died or fallen seriously ill, I would have heard about it! In the fall I called her at the hospital, asked for her, and said that I was being sent from my hospital to hers on some kind of business (I made this up, of course). Could she come out for a second, just like that, so I could just see her? And of course, I asked her why she didn’t go to the beach when it was unbelievably hot. She hurriedly said that she was terribly busy, and didn’t go to the lake because she was busy, very busy, and that she couldn’t come down because she was busy, very busy. Her voice was somehow hollow, not angry but somehow without expression, aloof and distant. At first I felt sorry for myself, because she was rejecting me again. But then I started to feel sorry for her. I knew from experience what a residency was like, how it kills everything lively, human, tender and delicate within you, turning you into a machine, a robot, a clown, a slave and a day laborer. She rejected me, but I could tell from her voice that she was doing badly, very badly, that she was not in the mood for me, that for her I was a nonentity, a big fat zero, a predator who just opens his mouth and eats everything it wants, including her. But it made me want to go up to her floor without her permission and punch the senior residents and attendants who were torturing her, tormenting her, exploiting her, humiliating her, and depriving her of sleep, rest, and all human feelings!!! But it turns out there is a God, after all! Closer to winter, sometime in November, I sent documents to Philadelphia so that I would be allowed to take the exam on internal diseases. I received an answer in December: you cannot take this exam because you do not have three years, that is, 36 months of residency; you only have 30 months. Take six more months of residency, and you will be allowed to take the exam. I dashed like a saleswoman at an Odessa delivery, with shouts and hysterics, to my supervisor, who was a nice person: “How can this be! I have twenty years of medical service, fifty publications, a dissertation and graduate study here, and they still need six more stinking months residency?! Yes, I, yes, we … ” My supervisor tried to calm me: “Musya,” he said. “Don’t blow your top (all this was in English, of course). Nobody cares about your twenty years and all the rest. They wouldn’t for me either. They have strict rules, and they don’t make exceptions for anyone. I’ll let you go for half a year. Go do that annoying half-year residency, not the first but the third year. At least it’s three duty periods a month, not ten!” Not yet imagining what this could lead to, I asked my supervisor: “Then where should I go, which hospital?” And he named the hospital where Yulia had begun her residency. “I’m friends with the program director there. Do you want me to give him a call?”


All of this happened three weeks after my last call to Yulia. He called his friend in front of me and got a positive response. On Sunday, January 1, I showed up on the ninth floor of Yulia’s hospital in proper costume, with my last name, the prefix M.D., and the hospital’s logo stitched in blue on the pocket of my coat. Yulia was the first person I saw, along with another Russian resident (don’t mistake me for a spy!), an elderly woman named Lida. At first Yulia didn’t understand what I was doing there. I explained that I would be working for half a year as a third-year resident, and on this floor for the first two months, that I would be her and Lida’s supervisor. In order for you to understand what happened next, I need to explain what the residency is, and what a resident is. American education of doctors does not end with the completion of medical school. Doctors also need to go through a clinical residency in a hospital, in which the first, second, and third years of education differ greatly according to the clinical load, the number of duty hours performing operations, lectures, and other obligations. The first year of residency is the hardest, something like the military hazing of a young private. A first-year resident is scorned by everyone and tormented by the older residents, nurses, and doctors. According to a strictly observed hierarchical pyramid, the first-year resident had better forget about having a personal life. Why? To survive! What was going on with the girls, if you could call Lida that, before I appeared? First of all, they had ten duty periods a month. Lida, a 45-year-old woman from Kiev, suffered from uterine fibroids. When she walked down the corridor, she sometimes dripped. Dripped blood. In drops and streams. Due to this constant bleeding, she had severe anemia. To gain the right to work, she had to last a year of residency, but no one took pity on her. In general, no one feels sorry for you at work in America. It’s just not appropriate to do so. You can feel sorry for family members – your wife, your children, sometimes your parents. But not coworkers. What is ten duty periods a month like? You go to work at 7:30 am. You work all day. Then you stay on duty. You work all night, taking on new patients and attending those who were on your floor according to the nurses’ demands. After a sleepless night you continue working the following day until 6:00 pm. All in all, you work from 7:30 Monday morning until 7:30 Tuesday morning (24 hours), and then from 7:30 Tuesday morning to 6:00 that evening (10 hours, 30 minutes). 24 hours plus 10 hours 30 minutes means you have to work 34 and a half hours without a break! And on Wednesday, you have to go to work as usual. To accumulate ten duty periods a month, you need at least two a week, and three for one week. Here’s another way to calculate it. A normal work week is 40 hours: 8 hours a day for 5 days. The work week of a first-year resident consists of Monday and Wednesday duty periods of 34 and a half hours times two (69 hours), plus the usual days, Friday and Saturday of 10 and a half hours (21 hours), for a total of 90 hours! And for this


kind of work week, you are paid five or six times less than a doctor, independently of hours worked, and even less than a nurse. Incidentally, Lida didn’t even receive any salary at all. She was taken without pay, which nobody knew, just so she could receive her license. But they treated her as though she were earning a salary, working her fingers to the bone. After a sleepless night, Lida, when we came to work in the morning, was staggering, barely staying on her feet, reporting on the patients who had been admitted to the hospital that night in the morning staff meetings. She looked pitiful, as if right after the meeting she would go to the administrative wing and hand in her resignation. She was on the brink. My appearance could bring her some kind of respite, as the Brest-Litovsk Treaty did for the Bolsheviks. I told Yulia, not because I wanted to show off for her, but because this woman needed to be rescued, “Let’s do this: let her get two or three hours of sleep in the duty room after her duty period, and we’ll divide her patients in half and each of us will take care of them, and she’ll leave around 12:00.” Yulia agreed to this suggestion, and we looked after Lida’s patients, doing everything that a first-year resident would do. Besides having the opportunity to run around the floor with Yulia and find some time together with her, I disdained nothing, doing the very same work she did. She most likely started to see me differently right at this time, as an equal, and our difference in age – Yulia was 30 – began to wear away. My life at this time most closely resembled a short circuit. I was locked into one person, and all the rest of my “system” fell into disrepair. Everything faded, lost its meaning; everything was moved to the background, where it lost its value and slipped away; all my energy, all my strength doubled, no, increased tenfold, no, was squared, as in Einstein’s famous formula, and this happened independently of my will, like childbirth for women. Yulia began to work her way out of her depression, sensing that she could return to her former routine: that is, to be the best at everything. We sat alone until 2:00 in the morning in an empty conference hall, and Yulia, memorizing and going over the idioms of a foreign language, practiced her announcement of a joint conference with surgeons in front of me. We appeared together at the morning staff meetings with the program director and updated him on the patients who had been admitted during the night. We went to the radiation room, the laboratory, the emergency department, the morgue, the clinic, the rehabilitation center, and dozens of other places. And everywhere, we went together, side by side, like soldiers on the attack, shoulder to shoulder. We gradually became friends, and could support and rely on each other. Yulia once forgot her phonendoscope somewhere, and I promptly lent her mine. And when a first-year resident called me to find


out how much medicine a patient needed, Yulia, who happened to be nearby, prompted me with the dose. Her daily routine, with perspiration, an expression of unending exhaustion on her face, rumpled during the night, blood on the coat, unisex, impersonal green uniforms, disheveled hair stuck together – you’d think that all of these signs of our “military” life would kill off her femininity, and all of my feelings for her. But I continued to look into her enormous black eyes. I didn’t notice anything but those eyes, returning to me the mythical ur-image of the past, embodied in female flesh, and I wanted to touch her and stroke her. It began to rain in March. We sat in the car one day, and rain beat against the windows. I gingerly started to kiss her cheeks and neck. She didn’t resist, responding with quick and dry pecking, almost without opening her lips. I looked at her knees, which I liked, testing myself and anticipating future closeness. Returning home, I found Luisa in tears. She asked me to sit next to her in bed, and told me that she had some kind of fit at work, with strong heart palpitations, which couldn’t in any way be explained by fear. “I’m afraid, I’m so afraid!” Luisa sobbed, grabbing my hand. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me!” After further questioning, I calculated that Luisa’s fit coincided exactly with the moment Yulia and I were kissing in the car. I sat there unable to stir, shaken by the telepathic connection of events. I felt that I was entering a zone of moral suffering that would be impossible to bear. I had to freeze my soul, to turn myself into ice, a block of ice, an iceberg, the northern lights, the Arctic and Antarctica, the cold poles, the taiga and tundra! I knew that this was only the beginning, that all this would be followed by a life that would turn into appearances and theater. I would need to lie all the time, lie to everyone, left and right, lie intensely and proficiently, passionately and calmly, lie so that I would be believed, lie reliably, in great detail, experiencing no remorse, no pangs of conscience, making this lie the working condition of my soul. In a week, Yulia came to my room during her duty period. She had on a green hospital gown. She sat on my bed, and her sharp shoulders, jutting out from her shirt, made me pity her. Something stopped me, saying to me that this should not happen today: “Don’t touch her, control yourself, spare her. This will look violent.” Yulia sat quietly, and left just as quietly. Another week went by, she stopped by again, and this time it happened. It was all simple and easy, almost routine, without any particular trembling, stress, or anything unexpected. Physically I felt the movement of her right hand, helping herself reach orgasm. The novelty of her maneuver didn’t disconcert me, and I was grateful to her for deciding to do this during our first time, trusting me without words, not warning me or being shy, doing what she was used to doing, clearly, with her husband.


She didn’t tell me she loved me. In general, she didn’t say anything, but lay there silently. I couldn’t see her eyes, because it was dark in the room. We hadn’t turned on the lights, and there were no windows. We didn’t sleep. I felt calm and joyful. The joy was quiet, somehow prison-like, natural and everyday, as if there were no hospital, no patients, as if her husband and my wife didn’t exist, as if we had no obligations and problems, as if everything remained in the past, and we didn’t think about the future. Only the night was ahead of us: a blind, dark, homeless, desolate Blok night. Her head rested on my arm. I was also silent, listening to the night quiet, sweet in its stupor and isolation from the whole world. We lay like corpses, although we were alive, and I thought about how easily she had given herself to me, and wondered why I had needed these months of amorous fever, bordering on madness, and dull, nagging melancholy, which drove me insane at night. Already on the third night, she told me things she had never told anyone before: about her first, great, failed love, failed in the sense that she loved more than she was loved, or more accurately, she may not have been loved at all; about how once she had to be with two men, because the second man, her future husband, loved her genuinely; and also about how difficult it had been for her to make a choice, and how she eventually chose to marry a man she didn’t love. I listened to her. I needed to know her life story. I did not and could not accept power over her for a number of reasons, first of all that we were of different generations, and many others because of what she told me. But already then, in the first days and nights of our intimacy, I understood that she was my destiny, my fate, my fatum, and that my whole life from that moment on would be connected with hers, which meant that if I loved her, then I needed to love her completely, without reservation, as she was. Did we have a honeymoon? Of course we did. We weren’t americanized enough yet to take a room at a hotel. It was May, and everything went as it should: there were some hasty Nabokovian copulations, and we didn’t feel any shame. It seemed that the rest of the world was copulating along with us. Once, in our car, which was standing alone in the parking lot in front of the entrance to a wooded park, a policeman came up to us and shined his flashlight at us, since we hadn’t noticed how dark it had grown, and didn’t know that you were only supposed to be in the parking lot until dark. The policeman flashed his light several times, then walked away, sat in his car, and waited, giving us a chance to finish. Yulia’s husband was a good, decent man, although I couldn’t reconcile myself to him, not imagining how a husband could be better than a lover in any way. From Yulia’s stories, I coaxed out some traits that affirmed my chauvinistic (in relation to all husbands) tenets. One day, I was able to get a direct look, so to speak, at the relations in her


family. No, don’t imagine that I was sitting in the closet, as in Raikin’s joke, or lying under the bed, as in Maupassant’s story. It was all simpler and subtler than that. We were talking on the phone: this was our main means of communication. Boris came back from work unexpectedly, and we had gotten so engrossed in conversation that Yulia, speaking with me in the kitchen on a phone attached to the wall, wasn’t able to hang up the receiver properly, and it hung from the wire. I heard the conversation between her and Boris, whom she began to serve dinner in the kitchen. He ate slowly, it seemed to me that everything went very slowly! I heard everything very clearly. How long did it last – half an hour? an hour? She was quiet most of the time, as with me, occasionally asking questions. And he talked. Talked and talked, monotonously, ate and talked slowly, and about what? Nonsense! But what could he have there, at work, besides nonsense?! Someone stopped by, someone stepped out, and all of it pointless, just a waste of time, a kind of quagmire, a swamp. This idiot thought what he talked about was interesting, but in reality it made no sense, it was just sheer absurdity!!! And not a single emotion, not one joke, everything even and flat, like a clean plate. I felt that my head was spinning from this monotony, and I started to feel nauseous. “My God, how does she stand it, all this boredom, this mental torture?! Shut up already, you pest! Shut up!!!” Eventually, I hung up the phone, because I was calling from a phone booth and a big line was forming outside, and it was raining… In general, all of our conversations revolved around her husband and my wife. For instance, I told her about Luisa, said that she was this and that. Yulia rarely defended her. But if for some reason she herself suddenly began to say something unflattering about my wife, as though expanding my thoughts and feelings, then I reared up, beginning to defend and even praise Luisa in every way. Isn’t that strange? When we talk about something, we usually seek support from our interlocutor. But this worked out the opposite way, unconsciously, and there is no explanation for it. In answer to attacks from the opposite side on our spouses, here we began to look for something good, kind, decent, and worthwhile in them. Rehabilitating them, we justified ourselves. If not, how do things work out: if your wife is trash, that means you are, too! Hours passed in such conversations. Nevertheless, I got a more or less accurate picture. She said: “I suggested that we go to a concert.” “And?” “Mahler. His third symphony.” “And?” “And he answers, ‘we have wonderful recordings of this symphony. We can listen to it at home.’ And I tell him – but this is living music! How can he not understand this? Then he says, ‘But where will we park? Where? It’s a real nightmare to park there. Everyone gets tickets there!’ And I say, so let’s leave the car in public parking. ‘Pay five dollars


more for God knows what kind of Mahler? No way!’ So we didn’t go… It’s very hard to go anywhere with him…” Right then, I told her my impressions of the conversation between them that I had heard. “Well, what of it?” she said. “His work is very boring – he sits all day at a computer. How can talk cheerfully about such boring work?” “And what does he think of women?” “He basically doesn’t like them.” “Why not?” “He considers them lying, hypocritical, unintelligent – maybe not all of them, but most. He is very good at figuring them out, and is almost never mistaken about them.” “So how did he get you so wrong?” “He fell in love with me. And he loves me to this day.” “You need to love a person in such a way as to let him reveal himself, be himself, realize himself. Now he should have wanted you to dress beautifully. Everything looks good on you, but in the training course they were saying that you’re a plain Jane.” “He doesn’t want me to dress nicely, probably out of jealousy. We were taking English courses in Moscow…” “Immersion courses?” “Yes. There were boys and girls, young kids. Well, naturally, I participated actively, and I sensed that people were paying attention to me. This was unpleasant for him. He paced for a while, and then said that he wasn’t getting anything out of these courses, and he stopped going.” “But doesn’t he notice how you dress? Does he ever comment on it or make suggestions – wear this, wear that?” “Never!” “So he’d prefer for you to remain a plain Jane?” “Yes, I think that would make him happier.” We couldn’t turn to anyone for support, so we stewed in our own juices. Yulia had a close girlfriend, but this friend had a husband. It was awkward to go see her when the husband was there. Time, or to be more precise, the calculation of time, was our main enemy. All of our strength was being used to fit stretches of time into cursed boundaries leading to and from them; each minute was accounted for. I could have written a textbook for lovers, and my first chapter would be called “The Calculation of Time,” because everything else was dictated by this. From the morning, before work, or better yet a day or two before, we needed to make all necessary preparations. To get these extra 30-40 minutes or an hour of time, all the classic, trivial excuses – flat tires on the road, the highway clogged because of an accident, leaving my driver’s license in a hospital coat and having to go back for it, were reserved for unforseen circumstances and used once or twice per month, no more often. But we wanted to see each other every day, at least for a few minutes, even in haste, strained, constantly looking at the clock, answering pages. After my workday ended, Luisa paged me every ten minutes: where was I,


what was I doing, when would I be home, why so late? I needed to answer calmly, according to what I had said in the morning or a day or two ago, so as not to be disconcerted, not to get anything mixed up, not to forget anything, not to say anything superfluous, not to make a slip of the tongue, not to lose my temper, that is, to play a role literally from memory, in order both to calm Luisa and to avoid her obtrustive calls. Despite all these inhuman difficulties, we had time to do a lot together. We were able to put two bicycles in the car and go somewhere outside the city. We stopped by some small boutiques, and Yulia came out of the dressing room in a little dress and twirled before me, like Rachel before Jacob. We stood on a narrow parapet of a water station on the lakeshore right by the water, hidden by a wall from anyone’s vision, and drowned out by the surf breakers, did standing up what we did lying down in the car. We went to the cinema to see Amadeus, and the opera to see Boris Godunov. We wandered in forests, picked flowers in the field, and lolled in the grass. We got caught in the rain, soaked to the skin. We caught snowflakes on our tongues and threw snowballs at each other. We raced down the highway in our two cars, following each other, not letting anyone between us. But most of all, we talked. There were days when we didn’t see each other, but there were no days when we didn’t talk. When Yulia was on duty, I talked with her by phone for hours, if she had time. Once after a night in which we talked for hours, she dozed off in her car on the way home and slammed into the wall of a cemetery. She called me from the hospital, where she was taken with scratches and bruises. I picked her up from there, and in the car we talked some more, and I recited poetry to her. Yes, after a fifteen-year break, I had started writing poetry again, almost every day. Life seeemd to be taking place under the minus sign, but in reality it was passing under the plus sign. My old, former life, with its torments, writhing in a lie, with quiet, constant, debilitating torture of loved ones, in the agony of estrangement and indifference, was departing with the minus sign… My poems became a reflection of a third sign that was only just being born, still in formation, illusory, and helpless… A body becomes our property much sooner than the soul. We may never experience a person’s soul. And this is what’s strange: experiencing someone’s soul often does not depend on the number of conversations. We can talk and talk and talk, but never experience the soul. Poetry is a little key to the discovery of the soul, to the divination of its deepest secrets. Why is this the case? Because poetry give expression to what we ourselves don’t yet realize. It is part of the unconscious, like dreams: poems help us pierce through silence, because silence is more important than words. When a person is silent, that is precisely when his soul is speaking. I always spoke more than she did. I spoke by phone, in the car, and when we got together. We drove to places I wanted to show her: I


would show them to her and talk about them. She turned her head to the left, then the right and… was silent. We spent all our energy planning to get together. We would meet, then disperse, scattering to our respective holes. There, in the holes, was real life, and we had only flashes, glimmers, reverberations… That’s how we got the idea to go away, even for a short time, but to go together, far away, abroad. We would test ourselves. How we could live 7 days, 24 hours together, no, not 24 but 24 times 7 = 168 hours together! Could we do it? It would be a test of our durability! 168 hours in a row, not 10-20-30-40 minutes of “hasty inadvertences.” Of course she chose Paris. She had never been to Paris. I hadn’t been there either. The first time in Paris – I with her, and she with me. It was great, symbolic! A honeymoon, no, a honey week! A honey week! A honey eternity! At first we needed to decide what to tell Luisa and Boris. We needed to say the same thing in general, but different particulars, different details. We needed to fly out of New York, not Chicago, and not on the same plane, because our spouses would be accompanying us to the airport. This meant a flight to Paris from New York. That was the first thing. Second: Yulia and I needed to come up with some kind of business on the East Coast, not far from New York. A conference for me, for example, and a seminar for her. There were some things that were impossible to hide: the stamps on the passport to and from Paris. But how could we cancel the whole trip over an unfortunate passport stamp? He who doesn’t take risks, doesn’t love! If they ever wanted to look in our passports, perhaps we would no longer be with them… I already had a permanent American passport, but Yulia’s was a white, temporary one, and she also needed a visa. We had to go to the embassies, which closed at noon. I picked up Yulia from work, and we pulled up to one embassy after the other: we also planned to go to Italy if there was time. I wouldn’t talk about this in such detail if Yulia hadn’t surprised me with an insistence that I hadn’t expected from this little girl. She pushed me: we’ll have time to go there, we’ll also have time to go here, let’s go to the car right away. The next day, I tried to resist, but she said “No, today, right now! There’s still ten minutes till closing! We’ll make it! Let’s go! Let’s go!” And we made it. Right then, I sensed for the first time that an unusually strong will was hidden behind her silence. At the beginning, this even frightened me. What if I fell under the foot of a young, smart, assertive woman? Would I turn into her servant, her flunkey, or to put it crudely, was I jumping out of the frying pan into the fire? Was I simply trading Luisa’s hysterics about trifles and annoying attacks of psychosomatic instability for Yulia’s iron, all-destroying – like Lenin’s – will, packed into a little head with a gentle, sweet and humble little face and big, black eyes? But then my thoughts took an unexpected turn: how is this a bad thing? I was getting old, and I should be with a strong-willed person,


capable of defending and helping me, taking responsibility, achieving something. Why hash out who is stronger and who is weaker; who should obey whom, who should depend on whom? Everyone wants affection, attention, sympathy, and support: men and women, adults and children, the young and the old. And not just people, either – that’s how nature is arranged. Stubbornness, constant urging on (we are not horses) and pushing, obtuse, business-like, calculating pressure, leading to emotional destruction, are disgusting… My fears proved groundless. On the one hand, they were confirmed in some respects, because we rushed about Paris wildly. It was a 24-hour marathon, and Yulia was the motor, the locomotive, the perpetuum mobile, and all this without stopping in a single store. Don’t think that I’m greedy – I’m not. She had a bubbling, boiling, throbbing thirst to see and learn about everything, not to skip one museum, famous square or monument, park, bridge, cathedral, or building mentioned in Baedeker’s guidebook and other literary and historical sources. I couldn't keep up with her hectic pace, and plopped down on a bench somewhere on the banks of the Seine near the Notre Dame Cathedral, pleading for at least a thirtyminute break. She sat next to me and continued studying the guidebook, which I already hated. However, I liked her disinterested curiosity, bordering on tourist madness, and I tried to keep up with her in everything, only declining to climb to the top of the Eiffel Tower. I napped in the clearing of Versailles, my head against her knees. She sat quietly, not reading, waiting for me to wake up. She bent over and kissed me. And we also kissed in Boulogne Forest by a big, old oak tree. What else do I remember? I remember going to the metro from the airport, and then getting out at some station. She was the last to get out, and living Paris arose before us for the first time. With our two light bags, we walked through the whole city, recognizing places we had read and heard about, or seen in the movies and in paintings. We held hands, not knowing where to go. We wanted to immediately answer the question: which city is more beautiful, Paris or Leningrad (at that point we preferred the latter). There was no broad, highwater Neva here, no free spaces, no perspective in the distance of geometrically outlined prospects, no golden needle crowning the Admiralty, and the spire of the Peter and Paul Fortress was nowhere to be seen… We walked around, enjoying our freedom and the enchanting beauty of Paris. We didn’t hurry anywhere, didn’t hide from anyone or fear anything. Not until late in the evening did we remember that we needed to stay somewhere. We happened to walk onto St. Germain Street and decided to stay on this street, more for the name than for any other reason. We stopped at the first hotel we saw. They gave us the only room left, right under a Mansard roof.


Occupying this room, we were in a purely Parisian, haphazard, bohemian environment. An overhanging ceiling, rooms without doors connecting them; not even rooms so much as space that seemed to be empty because of its unusually large proportions, with old furniture arranged as though in an exhibit. A mini-shower, open on all sides, with a tiny toilet and a bidet nestled in a far corner opposite the window, from which a piece of the Paris sky was visible. Stopping near the double bed, standing on an elevation, we didn’t see any pillows, but in its place, a soft roll of cloth with the thickness of a telegraph pole lay on the width of the bed. Shifting her gaze from the bed to me, Yulia announced that her honeymoon was at its high point, adding that this was her Jewish happiness. After confirming that all the services were working, we lay down, rolling the ill-fated cloth in half, and quickly fell asleep, nestling together like Mimi and Rudolfo in the eternally repeating story. I remember our last day in Paris. We were scheduled to fly out from Nice at 2:00 in the afternoon, and at 11:00 we were still running along the Champs-Élysées. “Faster, faster,” I urged Yulia. “We’ll be late to the airport!” But even that didn’t convince her. “Let’s climb the Arc of Triumph – look, it’s here, nearby.” “You’re crazy. We don’t have any more time! And I’m really tired! You need to climb on foot, and I have no more strength.” “It’s only three hundred steps,” Yulia looked at her book. “The view from there is better than from the Eiffel Tower. It’s the best view in Paris – that’s what they write here. No more arguing. Let’s go.” Yulia ran there, and I ran after her. Climbing up, from the heights of flying birds, we saw the city, surrounding us on all sides, as it was in reality: oppressively gloomy, elegaically solemn, and inexpressibly wonderful. The houses below seemed unreal, like toys, not houses but ornaments, in which an endless play unfolded. I envied people who had the happiness to live in these houses, in this city, touched neither by time nor decay. We quickly went down and took a taxi to the airport. When we arrived at Nice, we immediately took a rental car to Italy. The day was drawing toward evening. The road went along the sea the whole time, past wild beaches. We stopped and got out at a deserted shore. The horizon was clear, and the crimson sun sat directly on the water. We gazed, enchanted, at the fiery ball, quickly descending into the ocean depths. A moment later, all the space above the horizon, where the sun had just disappeared, became crimson, lighting the half sky with innumerable flashes. Soon the colors faded, and the sky became peaceful, turning gray. We sat on the pebbles, and in the approaching twilight both of us were absorbed in our own thoughts.


We were sad. Sad because we had no place in this world, and because we were rejected by everyone. We were lost, stupid sheep. It became completely dark. The first stars appeared in the sky. Despite their apparent motionlessness, all of them were in constant motion. The southern sky breathed, burned, and blazed up, gleaming with scattered, twinkling diamonds. What did our sinful existence mean in comparison with the infinity and might of the star-filled abyss opening before us? What was the significance of our fate, a little grain, lost in the world, a tiny sprout, feeble and fluctuating, open to the winds? But the hope flickered in our hearts that from a barely noticeable embryo, from nonexistence and nothingness, a tree, bearing fruit, would grow. When we got into the car, Yulia quickly fell asleep, and I drove the whole night, making my way through the fog and past the mountain ravines. In the morning we broke through to the green Italian plain. Somewhere near Pisa, we again saw the ocean and decided to go for a swim, choosing a deserted place. The sun pierced the mountain peaks. The sea was calm. We undressed, left our clothes on the pebbles, and began to swim. After swimming about a tenth of a mile, we turned back to the shore and suddenly noticed that we were being carried to rocks that appeared out of the blue. The current was strong, and we could not change direction. We came closer and closer to the rocks. The onrushing waves pounded us against the rocks. We thrashed in the water, covering our heads, and pushed away from the rocks with our arms and legs, trying to find some kind of passage between them. The water near the rocks was deep, so we needed to keep swimming the whole time. Our strength was running low. We urged each other on, moving along the rocks until we were able to grab onto one of them, and then, jumping from rock to rock, make it to shore. Back in the car, wounded, scratched, and exhausted, we decided not to test fate, and immediately returned to Nice. From Nice we flew to Paris, and from Paris Yulia flew to London for three days, and I returned to Chicago. At home, I found Luisa almost in a faint. She lay on the couch, looking thinner and drier. “Where have you been?” she asked in a weak voice. “Why didn’t you call? I was unable to sit still… And what happened to your face? It’s all scratched… And there’s an enormous bruise under your eye… What happened?” Luisa raised herself slightly. Her voice became stronger and started to sound more normal. “Were you beaten up? Robbed?! Tell me what happened!! Why don’t you say anything?!” Her questions saved me. She gave me a theme, the way Charsky gave one to the improviser in Pushkin’s “Egyptian Nights,” and like the


poor Neapolitan, I started to improvise, only in prose. My story was muddled, disordered, and ridiculous, but the more ridiculous it was, the more convincing. I successfully invented a scenario in which I saved myself from robbers by jumping out of the car at top speed. Miraculously surviving and overcoming the pain, I picked myself up from the ground and ran into the forest, where I hid for four days (which is why I couldn’t call), surviving on pasture vegetation, berries, nuts, and unfamiliar fruit from wild trees, and licking dew from the grass and leaves. “And where did you sleep?” “I spent the nights in abandoned and functioning barns and sheds belonging to foresters and other workers. I tried to avoid dogs, pigs, and some unfamiliar chickens and roosters.” Unlike Yulia, Luisa had a fine sense of smell. She smelled me and said: “Yes, you smell like the forest. And something else I can’t identify…” “Probably chicken dung. I slept anywhere I could, led a life like Tarzan…” On the day Yulia was supposed to fly back from London, I appeared at work as usual, by 8:00. I sat at my desk, staring at the telephone. All kinds of thoughts lay in my head. No, they weren’t thoughts, but some kind of unformed influxes, flooding my brain. I was conscious, but in an agitated state. I was in some kind of trance, nirvana, delirium vitae… My conceptions of place, time, and space merged and diverged. I was on the fourth floor of the hospital, next to the nursing station, and simultaneously on the plane with Yulia, crossing the Atlantic. Why did I have to be on the airplane? So that it didn’t crash! That is, the plane didn’t fly because its motor and turbines worked, and it didn’t stay in the air with the ascending power of its wings, but because my will, my great love allowed it to fly! The plane arrived, and I met Yulia. We had agreed that I would take her home before Boris came back from work, but I didn’t want to bring her to her husband. I really didn’t want to. This was unpleasant for me. Nevertheless, I drove her home. I should have said to her: “Let’s go, I’ll take you to a hotel. I’ll pick you up today, and we’ll always be together, just like in Paris.” But for some reason I didn’t say this. I took her to her husband like a sacrifice: of her and my love.


Chapter 23

Musya Sits in the John “I read your ‘Yulia’ chapter. What happened next?” “Things were bad afterwards.” “What do you mean by bad?” “That everything stayed the same as before. We saw each other every day and talked on the phone a thousand times. In this sense nothing changed.” “But what did change?” “After Paris, her husband really started to bother me. Yulia was with me twenty-four hours a day in Paris. We were never apart for a minute, not counting trips to the toilet. But here, in Chicago, I had to let her back into the ocean, like a goldfish, that is, to her husband, at 12:00 each day. I comforted and calmed myself with fabrications.” “You do know how to do that…” “Yes, that was my ‘second major’ – justifying myself with different kinds of reasoning, rather than taking action and fighting. For instance, I convinced myself that I was her real, actual husband, and her husband was some kind of fiction, an anachronism, a cipher, a phantom, Potiphar…” “You really hated him.” “It wasn’t hatred, but some kind of negation of a negative, a dialectic stunt, thanks to which I was somehow able to exist… In general we already behaved like husband and wife. If she wanted to buy a piano or a sofa, we chose it together, making the final decision, and then showing the items we’d decided on to her husband. We knew, though we didn’t say this to each other, that in time the piano and sofa would belong to both of us. We didn’t share a house yet, but there was already a coupling, a connection, and we didn’t need common walls or a shared bed for this.” “And you didn’t take any action?” “No. We waited, sensing that sooner or later everything would resolve itself on its own. The denoument, as always, took place unexpectedly. Yulia and I came out after yet another tryst, and we couldn’t find my car. Luisa, passing by, recognized our car, stopped, took out her key and opened it. In the front passenger seat, she found a woman’s handbag with Yulia’s billfold with her driver’s license…” “Were you afraid?” “At first, yes, but then I understood that I was now free. There was no longer any need to lie, play tricks, hide and tremble. It was the end of the year, December 30. Yulia was on night duty at the hospital. We decided to go on duty together – where else could we go? Yulia spent the whole night in the emergency room, and I ensconced myself in a room nearby.


In the morning, Yulia said she wanted to go home and pack her things, underwear, everything necessary. ‘Isn’t that dangerous?’ I asked. ‘He won’t touch me,’ she said. ‘Should I go with you?’ ‘Don’t worry, I know him. He’s not going to beat me. I’ll just take my things and leave immediately. Wait for me in the car.’ I parked so that I had a good view of the approach to her entranceway, and the entranceway itself. Yulia went into the house. I was nervous. Every minute seemed to be an eternity. Suddenly, Luisa drove past me. I realized that Boris had called her. She went in the entrance. After a minute of hesitation, some kind of force ejected me from the car. I ran up to the second floor. Boris opened the door for me, and led me to the kitchen. We found ourselves on different sides of the table. Boris, not wasting any time, struck me on the jaw with his fist. I sensed the salty aftertaste of blood, and realized that he had knocked out one of my teeth. But that wasn’t enough for him. He raised a stool over my head. I jumped back and distracted his attention by saying, ‘Look, our women are fighting there. We need to separate them.’ Boris lowered the stool to the floor. We went to the room. Luisa and Yulia were rolling on the floor, locked together like Siamese twins. We pulled off Yulia, and Luisa remained lying on the floor on her back, spreading her arms to the sides like Jesus Christ. Yulia lept to her feet, dashed to the bathroom like a shot, and with quick movements took her clothing from the shower bar and drawers, thrust everything under her arms, and ran from the apartment.” “And what did you do at that moment?” “I stood in front of Luisa as she lay on the floor. She blocked my way out with her body. The room was tiny. There was a table to the right of me and a sofa to the left. Boris loomed behind me. I found myself trapped. My only path was to step over Luisa, literally step over her.” “You didn’t want to do this?” “No, I didn’t want to, but I stepped over her and went after Yulia. We sat in the car and thought about what to do next. Snow was falling. Nobody was waiting for us. We decided to spend the New Year away from the city, in a ski lodge. ‘What will we do there?’ ‘Go skiing on the mountains.’ ‘But we don’t have skis.’ ‘Let’s rent them at the lodge.’ We left at 4:00. It was already dark. The place was decorated for the New Year. Little lamps of different colors burned on the hoists. Inside there was a Christmas tree and wood was burning in the fireplace. Young people sat in the large hall, drinking beer. Everyone was happy and cheerful. Yulia and I kissed near the hoists. She skied down the slope first, followed by me. Her small figure got lost in the gentle light of the lanterns and the falling snow. At exactly midnight, everyone lifted champagne glasses. Flushed, happy faces, cries, noise, laughter, embraces, kisses, balloons, candy, garlands, and the rumbling of uncorked bottles! We clinked glasses… I looked Yulia in the eyes, but


thought about Luisa… I said to myself, ‘Luisa,’ but out loud I said ‘Happy New Year!’ We returned on the morning of January 1, and spent the evening in a new apartment, which we had already managed to rent that day. We had no furniture. There was only a double bed in the middle of the bedroom. We brought Yulia’s nine-year-old daughter Liza. I played some kind of game on the floor with her. As I played with her, I thought about my children. ‘Why am I playing with her, and not my own children?’ Yulia fell asleep quickly. She slept like a ground hog, inaudibly, on her right side. She didn’t make a single movement the whole night. But I couldn’t fall asleep. I lay awake for hours, staring into the darkness. I couldn’t understand what was happening to me. Nothing gladdened me; I was not happy. Intellectually, I understood that all of this was exactly what I had been aiming toward, what I wanted. But days passed, and I felt worse and worse. I lost control of myself, of my thoughts… Everything was going badly for Yulia, too. She withdrew into herself, and we nearly stopped talking, merely exchanging unimportant observations. We didn’t curse at each other or quarrel; we were simply silent, not knowing how to repair the situation. Everyone deserted us. My mother took refuge in the hospital. My elderly, devoted patients looked askance at me, reproachfully, and my friends stopped calling. Nobody supported us, nobody approved of our behavior. We found ourselves completely isolated, in a vacuum. And one morning, Yulia said, ‘Go back to her. Go back to your family.’ ‘And you?’ I asked. ‘I’ll go back to Boris. He’ll take me back.’ To distract ourselves, we went to the movies. A Woody Allen film was playing. Yulia’s face was calm and impenetrable. In the film, a young woman fell in love with a famous movie actor. Through a combination of circumstances, she was able to attract the attention of her idol. They spent several romantic evenings together. The heroine was happy. She couldn’t believe her good fortune: everything that happened seemed like a dream to her, a fairy tale, a miracle… But then everything came crashing down. She waited for him in the rain, but he didn’t come to their rendezvous. Ahead lay a meaningless, dreary, worthless life… The next morning, I returned to Luisa. ‘What about Yulia?’ she asked. ‘She sold our bed. She was sleeping on a cot, waiting for Boris to soften.’ ‘And how did you feel about that?’ ‘I felt entirely at fault.’ Starting in the evening, I left the door to Luisa’s and my apartment slightly open. I slept on the sofa in the dining room, closest of everyone to this door. Luisa slept in the bathroom behind the kitchen, and my mother-in-law, even farther away, and the children were in the bedroom next to me. I waited for everyone to go to sleep. Sometime


between 1:00 and 2:00 I got up and slipped on my clothes, which I stored under the couch. After getting dressed, I had to pass through the whole room to the door. This was very difficult since the floor was very creaky. I walked slowly, stepping like a ballerina, trying not to lose my balance and fall on the floor. The light from the stairwell came through a crack. I walked toward that light. Stepping out into the stairwell, I left the door in its previous position. I went down the stairs very carefully to avoid – God forbid – waking up my neighbors. In the car, parked a little farther away, I took a few minutes to settle down. Yulia let me in, and then something completely incomprehensible and inexplicable followed. That which was accessible a few days ago, without any limits or fear, now, here, on a cot and nearby on the floor, gave me an incomparable sensation that I had never experienced. My flesh was exhausted, and my soul flew somewhere in the heavens, to the angels, to God. I forgot everything on earth, kissing Yulia’s wet eyes… I returned home toward morning…” “And you were never caught?” “Not once. Yulia returned to her husband in two months.” “The way you present this, you focus on the inner reasons for your return to Luisa. Were there other reasons, besides the suspicious looks of your patients and the whole unpleasant situation with your mother and friends?” “Of course, there was also the pressure. In general, it was hard for us to separate our inner and outer lives. A person has five sense organs, if you don’t count the sixth, discovered by Gumilev: “So, age after age – will it be soon, Lord? Under the scalpel of nature and art Our spirit cries, our flesh is exhausted, It gives birth to an organ for the sixth sense.” In his own day, my office landlord had also left his wife, or more accurately, she kicked him out. He loved to tell me how he left with one suitcase, in which his Soviet medals were clinking. So once he stopped at my office and saw me writing out checks. It was right after New Year’s, when I began living with Yulia in the rented apartment. He noticed that there were two names on the checks: mine and Luisa’s. ‘Have you been to the bank since you left her?’ he asked. ‘No, I haven’t,’ I said. ‘I’d advise you to check your account,’ he said. ‘Why’ ‘Never mind – just go the bank as soon as possible, today if you can.’ I followed his advice and went to the bank. I asked the teller to check my balance. The girl typed my account number into the computer, then asked me to wait while she went somewhere. She returned with two healthy-looking guys. They asked me to go to the next room, sat me down, and brought in a tray with a pitcher of water and a glass. ‘You know that your account is joint between you and your wife?’ ‘Yes, I


know.’ ‘You know that she also has the right to make withdrawals?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Look, the other day she took almost all the money from the account.’ ‘Did she leave me anything?’ ‘$1,500.’ ‘OK.’ ‘But do you know how much was there?’ ‘I don’t remember exactly, but it was about $30,000 dollars.’ ‘You had $29,565.70.’” “Weren’t you upset?” “To be honest, no. I was very calm, although they thought I’d faint. Luisa didn’t stop there. She went to Bauer, my boss, and spent a few hours talking with him.” “And this didn’t have an effect on you either?” “No, even if he had cursed me out it wouldn’t have. He called me in and informed me that my wife had been to see him.” “That’s all?” “That’s all.” “Was Bauer married?” “Yes. I think he just envied me. But what really affected me was a call from my mother-in-law. She spoke with me for four hours. She told me that Luisa wasn’t eating anything, had lost about 20 pounds, and was going to a psychiatrist every day. If it hadn’t been for him, she would have done harm to herself.” “You didn’t consider breaking it off with Yulia?” “No. I’m generally not a religious person.” “You mean you’re not a believer?” “No, it’s not the same thing. Being religious and being a believer are two different things. You can believe without being religious. So in everything unrelated to Yulia, I had a free choice: I could go left or right, do one thing or the other. But Yulia was my imperative, my destiny, my lifeline predestined and sent to me by God. My task was to fulfill that divinely sent destiny, whether I knew why or not!” “And did you know why then?” “No, I didn’t. I only believed that I had to do so.” “And do you know now?” “Now I can guess, but more about that later.” “And did your relations with her continue as if nothing had happened?” “It became harder to meet. If I was ‘delayed,’ Luisa immediately called Boris to find out if Yulia was home. If she wasn’t, she assumed it meant that we were together again… There was one scene after another, and because I was constantly so agitated, I started to have accidents, and several times I was a hairsbreadth from dying. I got a breather when I went to a conference in Germany for a week. I rented a car and traveled around the country alone. Once at 1:00 in the morning, not far from Munich, I saw in the headlights an inscription on a sign on the road: Dachau – 10 km Salzburg – 150 km


I was struck by that sign.” “Do you mean the association it called forth?” “Yes, the association of Hitler and Mozart. Two lines flashed through my mind: ‘From the same places, from the very same places…’ With these two lines, which got stuck in my mind, I returned to Chicago and again plunged into the whirlpool of unresolved problems. My mother was the first to break down. Perestroika had begun in the Soviet Union. Gorbachev allowed Jews who wished to return to their Motherland to realize their dream. My mother was one of these. She had guessed that Yulia and I had renewed our relations. She decided that she would rather be there than witness my madness here. On December 30, I flew with her to New York. There were crowds of people at the Aeroflot counter. One after another, they showed their tickets and documents and checked their luggage. Two heavy women in dark blue Aeroflot uniforms supervised the procedure. The whole situation seemed very familiar. I embraced my mother and we kissed. Sniffling, she crossed to the other side and disappeared into the crowd. On December 31, I returned to Chicago. Luisa and I didn’t go out anywhere. Our one-year-old grandson stayed with us. I was in a terrible mood. I remembered everything that had taken place exactly a year ago. Luisa didn’t want to miss an intimate New Year’s night, and I suddenly decided, either to spite her or to spite myself, to fake an orgasm, as women sometimes do. Luisa, not noticing anything, went to the bathroom. She then flew out like a Fury and started a huge argument with me, not paying any attention to our grandson crying in his crib. ‘Get out of here immediately!!!’ she shouted. ‘Where should I go? It’s night.’ ‘I don’t care! Pack your things and get out of my sight!!!’ I packed my suitcases, got in the car, and spent the night in a nearby hotel. In the morning I went to my office. There were several little rooms and a toilet there. I got the idea not to rent an apartment but just to live there. I left with everyone at the end of the workday, but later returned for the night. I would leave at a certain time in the morning and return when I was supposed to start work. “How many suitcases did you have?” “Four. I had a friend whose wife had kicked him out two weeks earlier. He was able to rent an apartment on Devon Avenue. I brought my suitcases to his place.” “But what did you sleep on? Did you bring a cot?” “No, I slept on an examination table in my office, so I wouldn’t have to drag a cot from one place to another. There were no windows in any of the offices. The walls, doors, and ceilings were all painted white. Since there were no windows, the light had to be on all the time, day and night, and it was impossible to tell day and night apart in the office. The sterility and irregularity of the whole situation had a stimulating effect on me. I began to write my poem ‘Hitler and Mozart,’ taking the two lines


I remembered from Germany as my starting point. I wrote deep into the night. Right at this time, Yulia was having an operation. She had been unable to get pregnant in recent years, and only this operation could help her do so. Boris went to the hospital during the day, and I went at night. The operation was successful. The surgeon said that now Yulia could get pregnant any time. She returned home after the operation. At the advice of her girlfriend, she used a piece of silk as protection, so she wouldn’t get pregnant from Boris. The situation became unbearable, but Yulia decided that I should keep living in the office exactly as long as she was alone in the rented apartment after I returned to Luisa. On March 15, exactly the day I finished my poem, Boris finally left her. Yulia warned me ahead of time, and I hid in the bushes, watching the entranceway from there. I saw him load his suitcases in the car and leave. As soon as Boris left, I jumped out from the bushes, and Yulia immediately let me in. In about an hour, Boris suddenly returned. Yulia sent me to the second floor: ‘Go into my bathroom and sit there.’ I sat in the john and listened to them fighting in the kitchen.”


PART FIVE Epilogue “I wanted to ask you about something. Of course, we have a big personal connection to Kharkov. We see it as a quiet, calm city. It doesn’t have big precipices over the river, like the Dnieper in Kiev; there’s no wide, broad street like the Kreshchatyk; no full-flowing river, like the Neva, or even something a little smaller. There’s nothing especially impressive or special, no lake or sea… So why is Kharkov so dear to us, so close to our hearts? Why does it inspire such love? I live in Chicago and I see Kharkovites, and I ask them, or rather, repeat after them, ‘You’re from Kharkov?’ And they simply glow. It’s a kind of love for one’s city that you rarely find: a person starts to glow, feeling something personal, something native. But I wonder how this city came to hold such a lofty position. In essence, it is the third city in the Soviet Union – so as not to insult Kievans or anyone else – as far as the quality of its inhabitants, its education, and in many other ways. So, explain to me: Where did this come from? How did it happen? What is it connected with?” “I think it’s connected with the fact that Kharkov started out as a city for migrants. If we resort to analogy, it is a city of internal emigrants. The thing is, it arose under special circumstances. It started as Russian territory, but this territory was closest to Ukraine, and Ukraine was then part of the Polish empire. What happened? There was a war of national liberation in Ukraine, and they experienced both victories and defeats. In particular, Kharkov, not by accident, was founded after Khmelnitsky’s defeat at Berestechko. In 1651, Khmelnitsky, after a series of victories, lost the battle at Berestechko, thanks to the Tatar betrayal and other circumstances.” “And where is Berestechko?” “Berestechko is in Right-bank Ukraine…” “Not very far from Kiev? To the south?” “It’s actually near Kiev, but the main thing is that it’s on the right side of the Dnieper River. And here is what happened. Residents of Right-bank Ukraine worried that after this defeat, the Poles might return. And with the Poles there would be serfdom, deprivation of rights, generally speaking, and humiliation: national and religious humiliation. The more active part of the Right-bank population decided to go beyond the Dnieper, because Khmelnitsky’s position and army were stronger there: stronger, because they already understood at that time that he could rely on Russia. And so these migrants went to look for land…” “Were they peasants?”


“Yes. The ones who went were the most active of the peasants, since the less active ones tried to somehow adapt to the changing conditions, to endure them, and so they stayed behind. They were afraid to move from the settled areas and leave all their possessions behind. But the active settlers decided to break these long-standing ties and leave. They were restless, talented, giften people, and fearless, the kind that can carry out any kind of colonization, in the positive sense. Well, like the ones in America, too. And where did they aim to go, where did they move? The thing is, at this time Russia was also extending its boundaries to the south and west. The movement of Russian boundary lines from Kursk to the south on the side of the Donets river basin took place because deserted land lay to the south. This land was in the forest steppe region…” “Was this during the time of Tsar Aleksei Mikhailovich?” “Yes, it was. The land was deserted, and there were practically no people there. None. Then the city Chuguev was formed around 1632. This movement didn’t seem to be connected with the Ukrainian war of national liberation. But from Russia’s point of view, the population was very small, and it occupied the land, the free land of the so-called wild field, because in general, in the absence of strong government protection, the people were afraid to settle there. They feared nomads, natives of the steppes, and Tatars, who always ravaged the settled populace, the farmers.” “Was this still before serfdom?” “Yes, there was no serfdom. It appeared in Russia starting in the time of Boris Godunov, so it had already been there for 30-40 years, but since there was no settlement in this area, there was also no serfdom. The land was empty. So, Russia occupied this region from Kursk to the Donets and constructed a series of border fortresses. One of these was in Belgorod, and this began the formation of the so-called Southern or Belgorodian ‘Zasechnaya cherta,’ a line of such fortifications that was made…” “Where does the word ‘zesechnaya’ come from? What does it mean?” “It’s from the word ‘barricade.’ They needed to keep out the Tatar cavalry. To do this a forest was chopped down, and these barricades were made, that is, forest fortifications. The forest was chopped down, and from the tree trunks they made impenetrable fortresses against the cavalry.” “And did the Tatars come from the south, from Crimea?” “Yes, of course. The Tatars came from the steppe. The border between the forest and steppe passed through exactly this point. The territory was extremely sparsely populated, and it had to play a very important role in the defensive border. It had to defend these lands, these extremely fertile lands, the Chernozem, as it turned out. Russia had a strong interest in occupying these lands, and the migrants who traveled from Right-bank Ukraine, from the Dnieper, wanted to occupy


them. So here, at this point, the interests of the Ukrainian settlers and the Russian government coincided.” “Did the Ukrainian and Russian settlers know that it was good land, that it was the Chernozem?” “Yes, of course. Everyone understood this. They were great farmers. Nobody had to explain it to them. They saw it all for themselves. They understood very well what kind of land this was, that it was incredibly fertile…” “So how could they tell? By its outer appearance? They looked at the field, and…” “Yes, they looked at it, and they knew.” “They didn’t need to dig it up with a shovel, turn the soil?” “No, they didn’t need to. They just looked at it, and that was all they needed. If land is settled and tilled, then it brings profits, and with it taxes, and these taxes go into the government’s pocket, which strengthens the economy and makes it wealthier. It’s good for both the people and the government. Therefore, the Russian government declared these lands free settlements; that is, they declared that the settlers who received these lands would be free. If we translate the word ‘free settlement’ into contemporary language, then it means ‘freedom.’ The land was given freely, without any payment or redemption. And the government also granted the settlers certain tax privileges. From there the name ‘Free-settled Frontier’ later arose.” “By the way, do you know where the word ‘Ukraine’ derives from?” “Well, that’s a complicated question. I think it comes from the word ‘frontier,’ although Ukrainian nationalists interpret it differently. They don’t like when the word ‘Ukraine’ is explained in terms of ‘frontier.’ But in reality, that’s most likely the meaning. Ukraine was a frontier in relation to Russia at this time, a southwestern frontier. It was also a frontier in relation to Poland, only an eastern one. In general, the settlers were gladly accepted there. The first mention of Kharkov as an independent city, a settlement, was in 1654. It’s incorrect to say that only Ukrainians founded Kharkov. Some of the settlers came from Russia, too. But what’s interesting is that the people who went there weren’t from nearby. They weren’t from Belgorod, or Kursk, which were also Black Earth regions, but from Russia, from the north, from almost as far as Vologda: places where farming conditions were difficult and unfavorable. You can see villages not far from Kharkov that have two similar names, from Russian and Ukrainian settlers. For instance, Cherkasskaya Lozovaya and Russkaya Lozovaya. By the way, the Cherkasy are called Ukrainians in Russia. Another example is Tishki, near Liptsev: there’s a Russian Tishki and a Cherkassian Tishki. Incidentally, it’s the same in other parts of the world. It’s well known that colonization and resettlement spur enormous development,


thanks to the appearance of an active population that isn’t bound by tradition. We could compare it with your Chicago. How did it take shape? Also thanks to a stream of emigration from the East. And also California, all of the Western United States, and really the whole history of America: there’s no better example. Settlers in Kharkov immediately seemed to choose one of two occupations. Mastering farming could provide rudimentary nourishment. And of course the land was wonderful and there was no oppression. Along with farming, trading started to develop as well. The settlers traveled enormous distances; they went on foot and in carts. And so, farming, trade, and crafts were the three pillars. Then, like magnets, they started to attract other kinds of settlers. Greeks, Armenians from the Caucasus, and Jews, who also had great skills, especially in the field of commerce, all came here. There is another tool for understanding why Kharkov started to grow so quickly: a geographical map. If you visualize the main commercial routes of this time, that is, the 17th to 18th centuries, then there were two such routes. One passed from north to south, from Moscow toward Crimea, and the other went from the Volga to the Dnieper. If you combine them as the most direct routes, then the Kharkov area turns out to be at the crossroads of these two lines, north to south and east to west. It’s true that this point, as a geographical concept, could also fall in Belgorod, but for some reason Belgorod has remained a provincial city. At the same time, Kharkov, formerly a fortress of this Belgorod district, in 50-100 years became a center that unified all of free-settlement Ukraine, the main governorate city of Southern Russia, and the gateway to the South. And in 300 years, Kharkov was already the major center of the whole Soviet Union. Kharkov developed very quickly. All in all, only Odessa grew at the same speed. Odessa developed thanks to the fact that it was a port, through which the main Russian resource, bread, was exported. And ships with European traders came to the port.” “And did the Chernozem play a role?” “Of course. This is what supported the farming.” “But could you explain what the Chernozem is, specifically?” “The Chernozem is a layer of soil several inches thick, at the uppermost part of the earth, and this layer doesn’t form every year or two. It forms when neither cattle, the winds, nor people interfere with the growth of grass. You need decades or even centuries for this to happen. After all, these steppes were completely vacant, unsettled or plowed, and in the good climate conditions of the average strip of land, along with a sufficient quantity of moisture and warmth, without strong winds or forests, the wonderful, fertile soil of the Chernozem was formed.” “Can the difference be felt? Are there plants that in general don’t grow on other soil, but here they are of better quality, tastier?


“Definitely. For example: in France, the soil that provides wonderful grapes yields very poor grain crops. The soil there is depleted from gypsum growth. Chernozem is good for producing grain for bread, and of course, for vegetables, and also fruits…” “So if fruit trees are planted…” “Yes, fruit trees grow wonderfully there. Bread, vegetables, fruit… What more do you need to live?” “And if the Chernozem is here now, does it stay for good? Or does it disappear over time? Does it get depleted?” “In principle, the Chernozem formed hundreds of years ago. Hundreds. I hesitate to say this, because it may even be more, a thousand years or two thousand. Maybe even more. But it’s only started to be plowed relatively recently. Kharkov will be 350 years old next year. Maybe in a thousand years the Chernozem won’t be there anymore. Who knows? Keep in mind, the energy forming the Chernozem has been heating for thousands of years, but has only been used for 350!” “And are our food products really tastier, better in quality than in other places?” “Well, let’s not exaggerate. They are good. But to say they are tastier and better would require scientific corroboration. They’re certainly very good! I say this to you as a consumer. Getting back to history, after the unification of Left-bank Ukraine with Russia, Kharkov was no longer a border city, and it lost its role as a defense fortress. Not right away, of course. The Tatars continued their raids, almost reaching Tula during the reign of Sophia Alekseevna, that is, before Peter the Great. Now I want to note the role of the Kharkov administrators. It’s well known that in the eighteenth and even early nineteenth centuries, the nobility played a leading role. They organized fairs in Kharkov, and merchants from all over free-settlement Ukraine came to them at the start, and then later, also from Moscow, Kiev, the Caucasus, and Crimea. In the beginning, the fairs were tied to church holidays, but later they became bigger and more frequent, and there were more merchants in these Kharkov fairs than anywhere in Russia with the exception of the Nizhnyi Novgorod fair.” “Were these fairs mostly in the summer?” “No, they also took place in the spring, fall, and even winter. It was easier to travel through snow than mud. Thanks to the fairs, a craft developed, and the craft grew into an industry. Kharkov doesn’t have its own fossils, but geographically, if you follow the outline between the iron ore of the south and the coal of the Donbass, the city is on this route. Of course, it was possible to transport iron ore from Krivorozhye to the Donbass, and coal from the Donbass straight to Krivorozhye, but in each case the route was longer than transporting everything to Kharkov. As a result, the metallurgy industry developed in Kharkov, which in time became the largest center of machine building in the Soviet Union.”


“Could you give a specific example of the activities of the governorates and administrators of Kharkov?” “There were some well-known people among the Kharkov governors: princes, Kropotkin, for instance, from the same family as the People’s Will member Kropotkin. He was smart, and a good governor.” “But give me an example of their activities.” “All right, I’ll give you an example. The Jewish question in Kharkov. Since Kharkov belonged to old Russian territory, when the socalled Pale Settlement was demarcated under Catherine the Great, that is, the line restricting Jewish residence – later upheld by Nicholas I – the Ukrainian territories that had formerly belonged to Poland became part of it. Later, eight Ukrainian governorates, along with the Jewish populations living in them, were united with Russia, and they formed the so-called Pale of Settlement, which passed very near Kharkov. So, let’s put it this way: Poltava entered the Pale of Settlement, and Jews could live freely there, but in Kharkov Governorate they no longer could. But if they lived there – well, let them continue to do so. No need to expel them. Now, there were no Jews in Russia, and they wanted to make sure there wouldn’t be any in the future either. But the Pale of Settlement passed very close to Kharkov, so characteristically, despite all the prohibitions, there were many Jews in Kharkov. All the strict instructions for observing the Pale of Settlement restrictions were violated. But the Kharkov administrators contributed to this, because they considered Jews a useful part of the Kharkov populace. It’s well known, and has been documented, that the Kharkov governor asked Nicholas I several times to allow the Jews to reside in Kharkov.” “And how did Nicholas I respond?” “He didn’t agree to it. But despite this refusal, the governor secretly gave the Jews permission to live in Kharkov. And the Jewish population in Kharkov very quickly and steadily grew. Why? Because these people were useful. In his petition to the tsar, the governor came to the conclusion that the Jews worked as craftsmen and merchants, that some of them were doctors, and other useful professionals.” “But why did Nicholas refuse?” “For general reasons. Not to go into too much detail, but he didn’t think it was possible to officially break the rules, and if they were broken in Kharkov, then what was to stop it from happening in Petersburg and Moscow, too?” “And Kharkov University was the third university in Russia?” “There was already a seminary for priests, and then other specialists, even architects, before the university was established in 1805. The enlightened Kharkov nobility thought the city needed a university, and through Karazin, who was friendly withTsar Alexander I, took steps in this direction…” “But Karazin was an informer!”


“That doesn’t matter.” “I was shocked when I read about this.” “As Hegel said, everything exists in all things. Karazin played an enormous role in the founding of Kharkov University. This was his main accomplishment in life. He was a genuine enlightener to open the third university in Russia! It was a very difficult task. He needed to find and invite professors, and getting students was especially difficult. There was a medical faculty, but no one to study in it. Several years after its opening, there still wasn’t a single student in it.” “Why not?” “Because the courses in the medical department were conducted in Latin, but Latin was only taught in the gymnasia, and there were none of these in Kharkov yet. There were only schools that did not teach Latin.” “There was a university, but no gymnasia?” “Yes, that was the paradox. But later, students enrolled anyway. They even came from Tula and Kursk to Kharkov, not Moscow, to study. The construction of a railroad in 1869 provided a great impetus for the development of Kharkov. After this, Kharkov became the de facto third city in the Russian Empire. After the 1917 revolution, Kharkov was the capital of Ukraine for seventeen years, and its population tripled during this period. But all of this is statistics, so to speak. There is also an inner life to the city. There’s something intangile in its history, its role, and its significance for the generations that followed one after the other.” “Then tell me what this intangible thing is, and about your personal feelings for the city. Why don’t you want to go anywhere else? Why didn’t you emigrate? That’s the interesting thing: that you didn’t leave, that you stayed there. What is it, exactly, that attracts you personally to this city? Mama and papa are gone, I’m not there, few of your close friends there are still alive. The city, the city itself keeps you there, right?” i can tell you that the feelings have changed in a certain way i don’t feel now what i felt twenty years ago even in relation to the city my age weighs me down of course i changed it’s as if i merged with the city there’s also a note of real tragedy to be honest our parents encouraged us to think of the city as belonging to us that this city even was us from an early age i had a sense that the city belonged to me we considered the city ours in the direct sense of the word in a good sense not in the sense of ownership not in the sense that we were in charge of it but that we were born in it and then this wave of antisemitism that came at the end of the forties first of all it also changed our parents’ situation but the main thing was that the city might suddenly not be ours anymore over the course of many years we were gradually being margnalized and made into renegades but ultimately this didn’t happen because we were closely connected with this city we studied well we worked well we


made a contribution to its culture and its development it was hard to cut us off from the city though on the state level these attempts became more and more serious but still although the consciousness that it was our city was shaken it didn’t disappear it just weakened now after 1985 when government antisemitism ended and it ended to a certain extent there was still everyday antisemitism but official antisemitism was liquidated the old sensation of blending with the city again started to return the feeling that you’re a small part of this city this started to grow in me starting in 1985 and now considering my age it will probably be the last sensation of my life it’s as though i’ve returned to my native city because it has become mine again i feel that in these past 15-18 years that it’s my city in all respects it’s hard here now there’s economic ruin and uncertainty but i know that i won’t experience these misfortunes in greater measure than others the main thing isn’t even money a certain social stratum of entrepreneurs has appeared here and some of them are also small businessmen and they are absolutely better provided for and fit into kharkov life better not everything here is good there is corruption and criminality and enormous economic problems and we have regressed in the fields of education and culture much of it was destroyed in the years of perestroika afterward all this has its place nevertheless there is a basic tendency and this tendency is oriented around this being my city it develops i love it it’s native i feel completely blended into it i will die but it will be there for new generations that’s how i would try to answer you that’s wonderful now this is a feeling of the return of what had been lost what we had in childhood and lost in our youth and adolescence the sense that my city was overcome by despicable antisemitic pressure has at least been overcome in the emotional sense this city is more home to me than it was in my childhood what resonates most poignantly for you in this city oh i’ll tell you this it has remained since childhood for me when i walk around kharkov it’s like looking at a big picture i hear a wonderful musical composition a play is taking place a fantastic play on a high level like bulgakov’s days of the turbins why because the city is not homogenous it has such significant points key places of the city which call forth an explosion of certain emotions in me connected with the life i have lived with the people whom i loved and those i was friends with and those whom i lived with with the feeling of mastery of a new entrance into life with a feeling of enormous hope my god what mad hopes we placed on ourselves in our childhood remember there was already a wave of antisemitism our parents understood that many of our hopes were not destined to be realized but they protected us from all of this and in reality until we finished school there was no limit to our dreams we knew that we could be anyone we wanted that we could accomplish anything in the world and in the country that the world was very fair that it was rationally constructed that the communist


ideological system was wonderfully and scientifically constructed and that within it was a system that consisted of unusual circumstances for a path to happiness in life that everything was attainable that everything was for us that the world existed for us it was a burst of such all embracing happiness well plus the wonderful family in which we lived it gave us such a vital support and therefore those points of the city that were connected with this feeling with this burst have an emblematic meaning of course one piece of kharkov dzerzhinsky street it is now called mironosetsky as it was earlier the whole street from victory square to gorky park it was all so familiar so bright such joyful but the most familiar the most joyful part is of course our block from ivanov to karazinsky street two blocks to petrovsky street petrovsky street from sumskaya and to artem pushkinsky street seemed to be on the border of our world a kind of projection of the youthful joy of our happy childhood our wonderful family and then this other part of the city that wonderful corner of petrovsky and dzerzhinsky streets well this i literally perceive as though it were mama and papa i go to that corner and i imagine that i’ve arrived to meet our parents so i’ve arrived to see papa and mama i’ve gone there to this apartment for years and mama and papa are really there and then you are there i would go there just like that but now none of them are left papa and mama unfortunately are no longer living my brother is alive but he is very far away but if i go to this corner i come home to my family to my childhood i arrive to papa mama and musya do you understand me yes i do and gorky park the most interesting things would take place there it even had a reading room it was open during the day you could leave your classes which we didn’t like very much you could go to this reading room find copies of jack london that prerevolutionary brown soft cover edition and you could read with enjoyment and the movie theater in gorky park we watched the best films captured in war american english from the thirties and forties these films were shown in different cities too but i’m thinking about what distinguishes our city from others there’s nothing so great or exotic no magnolias yes you found the right word there’s nothing exotic in kharkov it’s a level even city no sea or rivers or mountains and it seems to have made its people the same way yes the people are also even tempered they don’t tend to have emotional outbursts everything in measure in balance not hot or rainy but ideal weather of the middle of the region near crimea near the caucasus not far from moscow and so this seems to be an advantageous position thanks to the closeness to crimea the caucasus odessa and it’s about the same distance from kharkov to crimea the caucasus and moscow


and we felt better off in this city than muscovites we felt closer to everything we were in the center there was an absence of political processes there were of course there were both before and after the war and the people suffered and died for nothing but there weren’t such notorious doings as in leningrad fortunately kharkov was no longer the capital and stood apart from criticisms of nationalism and i’d like to ask you for a prognosis what happened here to prevent kharkov from becoming a provincial city how did it remain strong and maintain its potential it became the capital of the large surrounding region this region was already united by the soviet era it existed under the tsars as well is there a place for kharkov in the future let’s not say in a hundred years but maybe twenty or thirty years how do you see it the city will remain won’t it it will continue to have the second largest population in ukraine it’s unlikely another city will pass it it’s not that simple we don’t have market capitalism someone put it well we have bazaar capitalism that doesn’t mean that it’s petty business but that it’s miniature in scope it’s at the level of a bazaar the level of a peddler the level of private sale of goods that’s what characteristic that’s the level of this business of course it will develop into a normal market system but since it started on a small market level it turns out that what dominates now is that the people with the best chances for advancement are bazaar market business people with these small market skills and if we combine these businesses into larger units then small market cities that is cities such as odessa kiev commerical cities now have an advantage over kharkov because kharkov was an industrial city our socialist system had serious shortcomings it developed a one-sided economy after all the economy consists of two parts supply and demand but for demand you need to create a supply of products now there was a big problem with supplies a big shortage all of us in kharkov worked in industry but it turned out to be inflexible and not adaptable to changes of demand and as a result kharkov has lost ground in its development it’s very possible that bazaar market oriented cities will pass kharkov but it won’t be for long as soon as this defect this collapse is liquidated kharkov will get a new impetus for growth and will move forward but in the near future i don’t foresee anyone surpassing kharkov in development i just don’t sense this but integration with russia is important to resume the paths between the volga and dnieper and between moscow and the south yes that is necessary perhaps all of this sounds unpatriotic toward kharkov but this is what i now think it’s doubtful that kharkov will surpass other cities as quickly as it did earlier and what about fairs fairs won’t be in the same form they were in this is a transitional stage but maybe there’s a chance that kharkov will become a


junction commercial center even russian cities kursk belgorod voronezh always gravitated to kharkov people from there went to study in kharkov more than moscow kharkov is more suited to russia it fits well into the russian system of values and the russian mentality if we can say that there are two mentalities ukrainian and russian then kharkov is closer to the russian do you have any regrets late in life that you lived in this city and not another i have absolutely no such feelings to the contrary we lived our lives honestly this is the main thing we didn’t betray or denounce anyone or obtain something for ourselves through speculation therefore we have no feelings of loss we lived honestly and we still achieved everything we dreamed about now that the city is becoming more beautiful does it appeal to you more that’s a complicated question of course the city is becoming better and more beautiful objectively there is a lot of construction now each kopeck is used intelligently now if someone builds a store then another builder considers whether the building the store will be in also looks good so that the street on which this building stands also looks good this is a slow process it goes faster in the west but these are the tendencies of our businessmen therefore the downtown is improving but i can’t say that i am fully satisfied by this picture how the quiet little streets that were in our neighborhood have disappeared with their small two-story houses and now these houses have been renovated as banks and stores that doesn’t make me happy i’ll tell you honestly i understand that objectively this looks nicer than it did but subjectively i’m sad that the city i loved in which i lived practically my whole life is disappearing now let me give you an example when i passed by our entranceway and saw a steel door with a keycode of course this is good and now the stairway will be clean no passersby will stop by and urinate at the entrance but you can imagine how this breaks my heart earlier even before the wartime the door was falling apart half of it was ripped and sealed up with reddish brown paint from a white tin can do you remember that wooden door that had been there since 1934 and the trees there are just as many trees and pomerki neighborhood pomerki hasn’t changed the little houses our favorite pioneer camp was in have completely fallen apart and now look like roman ruins they are about to clear it out and build something new i think someone is already preparing to construct something in this space so is there a place in the city where psychologically you can feel comfortable yes there is the city became mine and i don’t want to lose this feeling on the other hand the people i loved have left the buildings for the most part have remained although certain ones have changed but the


people the people are leaving so there is a sense of emptiness and tragedy it’s tragic what remains of the city then just the trappings well the buildings remain and the people leave but the city is not just stones it’s also people for us the main thing is the people and people are the essence of our lives as i wrote in borrowed time a person is born and takes life from time he takes it as though it were on loan and then he has to give it back so he gives it back and he enters oblivion yes he himself enters oblivion and it’s final but cities live for ages the cities outlive their inhabitants the city is a place where a process like borrowing life takes place it passes from one generation to the next i think this image makes a lot of sense yes and so to speak you’re parting not with the city but with the people the people are one with their generation you leave but a new generation will look at everything anew and will live in a new way with a new reference point it’s no longer my own it doesn’t know these little streets it sees something different it has no nostalgia it’s open free and prepared to dream and when it gets older then these streets their streets get older together with them in the city although we don’t feel time physically this process is also taking place it passes by as though in parallel they build they build and then different people build something different and something is torn down everything grows in layers in layers every generation has its own world when a generation departs its world departs and people depart with their world



Poems of Musya Belochkin The sign of life is Minus: From memories of Childhood To a state where there is nowhere To go. Doctor Pinus From Riga Emigrated to Israel, To die. Interesting: His patient Is she still alive Or not? Let’s not argue about it, Come to me in insomnia, Come to me in parting, Put your hand on my heart, Touch it and listen, As it beats. And tell me, in this beating, And tell me, in this beating. Don’t you hear that? Don’t you hear that?


This fall I start My forty-eighth year, my forty-eighth year. The fall writhes with anxiety, Don’t be a touch-me-not, Kiss me, touch me. The angel of death Will wait For another time, Let’s kiss each other Until the sign of Blood. In absolute darkness, With intertwined hands, In a Pasternakian whirlwind, Of wandering hearts My moaning and knocking Will warm the world in prayer *** Don’t envy those who die in their sleep. They die completely calmly. And before their death, they probably have Frightening dreams (Of what, no one knows.) Because those who die in their sleep, Can no longer tell anyone about Their last dream. Death or its approach Calls forth a dream, a reflection of death, Horrifying in its form and content: Their mouth and nose are closed up, And not released until death itself Or they are smothered, covered with a pillow, Or shot from a cannon, Or soldiers in tarpaulin boots Dance on their chest, Until their body turns into mash.


Or they are sliced with a saw, starting At the top of the head and down to the brow, Slowly and terribly, Or some sort of loathesome liquid Is poured into their mouth until they choke, Or, hiding behind, like in “The Godfather” Someone throws a silk rope around their neck And strangles, strangles them, Until they choke to death. In their sleep the dying have Dreams you can’t even imagine Would be possible. I want to die in full consciousness, Like my father, and see not the darkness Of a mad dream, not nightmares Of Dante’s hell, but Light. At any cost to live to morning, To dawn and die At the first ray of the rising sun. But it won’t be exactly like that. Death is not an idyll. Death will come unexpectedly. Dizziness will suddenly begin (My angel of death), It will pin me to the floor Lower and lower, And I’ll have enough strength Not to fall, but to lie down, And think: “So that’s what death is like.” And then my vision will completely darken, And I’ll lose consciousness. Other people will crowd over my body, As with Zhivago. And I don’t know who will be first To run up to me. But I want it to be You.


*** Spring, Despite everything, Has come Finally. The constant flow Of gray days Has melted In the first blue And sunny day. I dreamed of you today Again In a white dress On a white horse. And when I woke up, Nothing remained Not the horse, Not you, Not the spring. Only drizzling Rain, Along the edges and cornices Of the wall. *** It all seemed like yesterday: We were starting life all over again. With a fire of azure warmth We were being burned and caressed. In the last hour before the evening The exhausted day stood over the sea, Insistently kindling in us A glow of love, almost gone. And the tent of the gray sky Shone like a crimson hoop, And God from the blue alpine mountains Descended to us on the beach unseen. And squeezing between her and me, He whispered almost imperceptibly: “She’s your otherworldly angel, The Almighty has sent her to you.


“She…” – but the wind suddenly carried away God’s last remark. And tears of regret came to me, That He said so little to me. The moon rose and the wind abated. Nobody in nature noticed, How God left us alone, So that we could live as God’s children. But we were drawn to the East With one passionate desire. She was at our feet – The wonderful land of Italy. *** Who am I? And what am I? More and more Often. Awake And asleep, From my past And my present At night I see Familiar streets, Faces, Linden trees And color, Velvet rain In broad daylight… Nobody and nothing Is out yet. Only night, Which must Last For eternity. When you and I Will be no more.


*** They curse me for all I’m worth, They curse me so much I neither eat nor sleep, Because I don’t kiss her, Because I don’t love her. ON THE DEATH OF ANNA KARENINA A Long Poem And autumn, clear as a sign, Rivets gazes to itself. B. Pasternak This poem Is about you And Anna Karenina. About a war In one worldly family, About a lack of peace, About original sin. “Vengeance is mine; I shall repay.” And about My lateness. This golden autumn, Might be, My last. The leaves are falling again Slowly, Round and round, Round and round, To the earth. This golden autumn – Is about you And me. I bustled about, like Matthew Levi In Bulgakov: “Woe unto you, Babylon.”


Terrible thoughts Assailed me Crawled in from all sides, Bells rang, Clouds were torn Into shreds. I saw her clearly, with my own eyes, I smelled stearine, And the air stood still, Not moving, Not breathing, And the apocalyptic world Froze in expectation Of something: In the forest, At our last meeting, I said to you, That I would Save her. Tolstoy lay on his sofa, Like a lord, With the closed eyes Of a murderer. His dream Had been realized. Anna was run over By a train, Torn into pieces, Her beautiful body no longer breathed‌ And autumn around her Stood the same way, And it smelled of a meadow, And the leaves fell Together To the earth, And the forest shone in divine Attire With unique, penetrating Yellowness, And there were conversations Between you and me. Anna bustled about, Like Matthew Levi In Bulgakov.


The seventh part Began, You cried Unceasingly. “Woe unto you, Babylon.” The train arrived, It was about to stop, Steam was pouring out On all sides. From the point of departure The train gathered speed, Like leaves in a forest… My God, a time machine has come To me, And I will Save her. Frightening the servants And the poor, Feeling out of sorts Since the morning, I burst into the home In Yasnaya Polyana. Tolstoy was still lying On the sofa Of black leather. With eyes half-closed From sorrow: “Young man, You are too late. I killed Anna yesterday, And it’s useless to argue.” I returned to you, Having described the conversation In the very highest Register. Suddenly I felt, That someone was watching us pointblank From behind the leaves. Turning around, I saw a neck and breasts And heard living breath, It was Anna, squinting a bit, Watching us in expectation. A breeze rustled a curly hair, And her hand trembled anxiously. We heard her voice, painfully familiar: “I’ve awaited you a long time here.


Autumn is lovely now, as it was then, There were the same leaves and aroma, And the low-lying water stood the same way… I don’t feel any fear with you. Do you want to ask me Anything in farewell?” “Was it painful?” “Very painful, until I lost consciousness… Oh, look, that little snake, Is likely going hungry. Let me just repeat again, God bless us, Lord.” HITLER AND MOZART A Long Poem Hello, Mozart! Millions of people Are coming to see you; Your birthday has become A holiday For all people on Earth; Your melodies are dispersed In the disapora of the Universe; Your ashes have been moved And a monument built In the capital of the world! He was buried: Who? What? The eighteenth century? Feudalism? The estate? When the coffin was borne From the funeral service From St. Stephen’s, Vienna, On the way Along the streets no one was standing, As with Verdi’s funeral In Milan, And no thousands Were singing The Chorus of the Hebrew slaves From “Nabucco” In thousands of voices.


Vienna in December Was empty, Like a barrel. No Golgotha, No cross, Only the coffin, Jolted on hummocks. And in the coffin – A pitiful body. But everything began So happily, as in a fairy tale: On the streets of cities And capitals, Including Paris, The carriage raced along, The carriage, The carriage, The carriage. Take a good look and listen carefully To this word: CARRIAGE. Later there will be an age of Trains and railroads, And Anna will meet Vronsky, Cities and exhibition halls Will be filled with automobiles, And the sky with airplanes, The world will turn, Like Gogol in his coffin, And the next century will come – Tiresome and precise, A century of monkey-like rockets, But the fairy-tale world of carriages Will never return.


Three people sat in the carriage: Father, Son and Daughter. The little heroes Rushed through the night in the carriage. The carriage jolted on hummocks, And the six-year old boy Slept, and of course Had a dream, It was wonderful, life-like: He dreamed of a park and fields, And people dressed very strangely, Men in trousers, Mostly blue. And women, half-naked, Everyone without wigs and even bald. The people, Not at all shy, Lolled in the grass. Some of them in tempting poses And under blankets. The people ate and drank An unrecognizable food, And an unrecognizable drink With unrecognizable aromas, And only the wine Was in normal bottles Made of normal glass. Two young men played chess. And there were people all around, Without end or boundaries, Like evening and eternity, Like an earthly paradise On a July holiday. The dream was vivid And long, Like a road.


After a three-hour concert The boy was very tired And slept soundly, soundly, And he wanted to sleep a little more, But the dream, like music, Would not let him: He dreamed of the sky Gradually darkening And stars in the sky One after the other Were appearing, Like musicians On the stage Before the start of a concert. The people walked around, lay down And sat on the field All around were thousands Of bright lights In an enormous theater With the long rows Of an orchestra, Open from all sides. Just before eight o’clock The musicians Began to come out, And little Wolfgang Recognized with difficulty The instruments in the orchestra. And behind the orchestra The chorus Began to line up. What an enormous chorus! And what an enormous orchestra! And where is this taking place? In what land? In what country? And when? The carriage jolted Over every hummock, And little Mozart, Opening his eyes For a moment. Fell asleep again, Because he wanted so much To finish his astonishing dream


To the end: The conductor came onto the stage To applause. And the theater and the fields Immediately grew quiet, And only the mosquitoes Were flying and buzzing. The orchestra lights were dimmed, But the stage was brightly lit, And some kind of wires Were lowered to the orchestra and chorus. The boy saw himself As an angel, hanging Somewhere between the stage And the fields So as to see and hear Everything well: The conductor waved his baton, And music poured forth, Which the boy Had never heard before, Although it was somehow familiar. He realized that it was a mass, A funeral mass, a requiem, And this became clear When the chorus began to sing. The carriage again jolted Over a hummock, And the boy woke up. Next to him His father and sister slept In uncomfortable positions. Wolfgang remembered that, Like yesterday, He was to play a concert today In a wealthy home For three hours. And after the concert, In the hotel, Before he went to bed, His father would again Count the money – Forints,


Earned by him and his sister. My God, And today is Sunday, July, A holiday! Among my seven geniuses His star Burns brighter than any, Like a ray of the sun! Neither before, nor after, The Earth, “You didn’t bear such a son And you didn’t take him back to your depths.” For those whose tears Were not heard outside, And have no strength to cry for long, For those unique ones, Whose burden it was To be born In a shameless and despised Europe – to be Jews, For those of them, Who were naïve And blind enough to stay Voluntarily, and for those, Who by the will of fate Were condemned to stay, For those, whom I see today As though they were present: The unfortunate and emaciated, The unshaven, the dirty, With sunken cheeks, Paler than walls, With trembling hands Squeezing their Knees, Praying to an unfeeling God in the hall, And on the stage Are seven young And old, the same As everyone around, –


Jews holding violins And ready to start Playing; And I hear through the years Your melody, the whole scale Of sounds, wrested from souls, From the hell, which As the last witnesses, Surviving Jews Cannot forget, Or betray. And all around there is such abundance: In the distance the Alpine peaks Blacken, The fields in the foothills grow green, Calm, oblivion and sleep Descend peacefully on the valley… From these very places, From those Whose juices you sucked, From the grass, flowers, Air balloons, From women – sweet, kind, And from men, From this mixture of men and women, One, just like the others, at the beginning: Curly-haired, blond, loved, Like all of us, By his mother… Nobody knew then, That in her, In her unhappy womb, Was conceived and nourished Not a bull but a man. And without him The Jewish God, And the Jewish era Would have been different. A remote Viennese coaching inn A candle burns at the head of the bed, Constance is sick, worn out, Her soul seized with fear, For the nine years they lived together, They didn’t save a single cent,


Nothing but debts, debts, accounts, And her prospects – poverty . The widow doesn’t know, And couldn’t even imagine, That soon after the funeral The concerts will cover all expenses, That all the debts will be paid off, That soon the fame of her husband Will eclipse that of kings, Of all the powers of the world, All kings!! That in forty years The Russian Alexander Pushkin With unprecedented poetic sense Would feel this And for the first time declare For centuries ahead: That no matter how long Humanity lived, To various peoples and nations (and even Jews) The image of genius Would remain Mozart, And of envy – Salieri! Carried by hand and on foot, Brought in fastened bags, This is how gods and unlucky tsars Died in the past. Brought to fire, bonfire and flame, Under the din of cannonades and bombs, And there was a frightful parting With those who were their king and God! All of this took no more than an hour… Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Would have no World War. For the six millions Jews – There were six million years (One year each) of peace On earth and in the universe. Let mosaics With the god of forgotten Ravenna Induce grief.


Let life never end, And let there be no end to a poem, And a monument to a father Never be erased. Let war continue writhing somewhere, And people continue killing each other For the time being. But believe That the temples in Greece will stand For thousands of years and ages! And also the houses in Venice Where Wagner died, Where Byron, Mozart, and Marco Polo lived, And let the gondola swim forever! Farewell, farewell, farewell, Hitler and Mozart. Both will be with me forever. Everything in humanity Its very best And its very worst, Will be in me As a reminder Of endless suffering And limitless happiness‌ Farewell, farewell, farewell‌ Other events and tasks Are calling me. This page of the book Must be turned, Just as this age of war, the age of carnage, That followed the age of revolution – Must end. In a future millenium Eternal peace will come!


DANTE A Long Poem Dante – this is About myself. “Eighty thousand versts Around myself,” As Aldanov said about Tolstoy. I begin from the middle, From that very first half, From Elvina’s plum-like eyes From my guilt, endlessly burning, From the dying groans of my father “Save me! Save me! Save me!” From the middle of the day, From the sun at its zenith, From times immemorial Which no longer exist. September bids farewell to a summer, As short as life itself, Foggy and rainy, And the world changes color, And we ourselves change. Dante – this is About you: Farewell to you – Such a Late farewell. Not to get off track And to be Yourself. Always. Everywhere. In everything. Farewell to you – Farewell to my father’s Home Farewell to fate. Poets are measurers Of the universe, Its most honest And best minds.


Their father sleeps The deep sleep of Ravenna In its eternal power And darkness. After centuries Descendants carefully Guard the sacred load Under stones. Poetry is the happiest And the unhappiest Of muses. Farewell to you – A heavy farewell. The world of colors has changed Completely. The autumn cold, As if on schedule, Like death, Seizes everyone. The last breath Of the yellowing forests Was seen and heard By you. Could you forgive me For everything Or wait for my farewell From above? Dante, Dear one, I have been late My whole life, And I am late now 666 years late. You are the beginning For everyone. You are the beginning Of beginnings. The first poet on earth. I reached you On my third attempt: My first time in Italy I was not there at my own expense, But at the government’s. The second time I was occupied with a different task.


The third time, I finally Came to Ravenna And brought you a poem From the past: “Bless me, Lord, On my last journey, to death, to torture, And my feeble flesh, And my feeble hands. Bless my children, So that they live justly, And love their mother As their mother has loved them. Bless the movement of rivers And our eyes’ autumn weariness, And the hundred billion years that remain, Until the contraction of the universe, Bless us.” – Dante, Dear one, What do you think? – Here is my answer to you: “Stolen happiness – Is not happiness. There is no justification – For betrayal. Death did not come Yesterday – It will come today.” A breath. A sigh. That’s all. A sigh. That’s all. That’s all. A sigh. That’s all. That’s all. That’s all. Eternity.


*** I can be smarter than everyone, And I can be dumber than everyone. I can be stronger than everyone, And I can be weaker than everyone. I can be more honest than everyone, And I can be baser than everyone. I can be richer than everyone, And I can be poorer than everyone. But I cannot die, Without seeing, hearing, knowing, Without living, loving, burning, Without pitying, asking, giving. What do we live for? And for whom? After us there will only be granite, If the children put it up. For whom do we live? And what for? It was as if I ripened today For poetry, for love, for struggle. It was as if I ripened today For my own, not the general, fate. I can be kinder than everyone. And I can be gentler than everyone. But I know that I won’t find A worthless answer in this life, I won’t go along that path, Where happiness does not exist. Everyone has his little world. His hearth. Vanity of vanities. Everyone has his light, My kindness is of no use. I had a New Year’s dream: You are sitting on my lap And kissing me deeply. At this moment you are gentler than everyone…


At the end of the last day Of a terrible year Of a wonderful year At the end of the last day Of my sixty-third year I give you everything, to the last, Everything that is mine. I am a poet to the marrow of my bones, To the last hair on my head, I don’t need anyone else’s bed, Let my pain and melancholy remain, And when life becomes unbearable And I want you while I’m awake, Will you come? Will you come? Will you come? I will phone you, I will call you. *** I am a Jew, living in diaspora. My goal is irreproachably simple: I’d like to be smarter than Einstein, And I’d like to be kinder than Christ. *** It was winter, And there is no winter. I had a family, And I have no a family. *** A living essence, A living deity. *** The ships sail, The trains run. They don’t run from there. They don’t sail there.


*** From thousands of northern lights, From millions of entropies, From billions of combinations Of heavenly and earthly elements, From endless branching Of the “pure beauty” of the universe A bright genius appeared to the world – A hero of an unattainable dream. *** Old men, pointlessly living your lives, Your years, like horses, have long been worn out. What do you have left? Ironing your pants, Not having loved or betrayed anyone… But as for me, I would like to die sobbing Over the last notes of Rachmaninoff. *** There is a place where aspens sit. Their branches bent toward the earth, They remind me of Russia, Where I was born and lived. They are like sisters to me, They are my joy and sorrow. The aspens sit in a foreign land, And no one here pities them. *** Now I can die at peace. Not because hell is full, But because the immortal angels Are already flying to me.


*** To the girl, waiting four months for me, In order to die. – Help me, help me, help me! (I hear this cry all the time.) – People! Why are you standing there! Help me! Or deprive me of my reason! Or cut off my tongue! Only help me, for God’s sake! *** The hospital regimen exists To be violated. Husbands and wives – to be betrayed, Children – to be cared for and loved, Life – to be lived. Death exists As a way out of a hopeless situation, War – as a mass amusement, (Fires and car crashes, Floods and earthquakes, Also fit into this category.) Airplane crashes exist, To be written about in the papers. (But so that everyone will think That it has no relation to themselves.) Thank God nobodies knows, What love exists for For love – and hospitals and blood, And husbands and wives, And children and life, And death and war, And all other phenomena, And even – all the more… – Samari, do you know What love is for?


*** Decision, decision, decision… Break my decision into parts, Separate the skin and meat from the bones, (Throw away the innards). Put my bones under a millstone, And grind flour from my bones, And mix the flour into dough. (Don’t forget, don’t forget, don’t forget To add salt to the dough, Otherwise it won’t taste good.) And bake a pirog from the dough. As soon as the pirog is ready – Put it on the table, on the table! Pirogi all March, all April! These pirogi are so good! And my soul is in the heavens – No need to do anything for that. So gather the guests quickly For pirogi from my bones! Take the knife and cut it, it’s tastier! They praise it… someone takes another piece… Why do you keep chewing nonstop, My dear, my enormous mouth?! I shout this in a rage from the heavens (My soul has suddenly found voice and flesh). My God, how can I stand it stand it stand it, How can I bear all of this, Lord?! *** I don’t regret the years I didn’t live with you, But the sense of existence, That which I did not experience, That which I did not have with an other.


*** You left me, and I remained, I have children and words: “I need only this little trifle – For you to be alive, and me to be alive.” *** There’s an old garden. As in an almshouse, On props in it sit Very old trees. I love them to an extreme, painfully, To dryness in my mouth. There’s no sadder lot Than the homeless apples in this garden. *** Nobody knows who is capable of what In the course of critical days, And only I am deathly ill With love for my poor homeland. *** – Please find out God’s telephone number For me. – We need the address… At the end of the day In the valley near the New Athos There is fog. The monastery can’t be seen And there is nothing around. And God without his angels and servants In the clothing of a poor monk Walks around the monastery courtyard, And greedily drinks spring water, And learns about life on earth Point blank, right up close.


Throughout the universe there is a tremendous amount of tasks, To look after everything – is pure torture: Some fool presses the wrong lever, And instead of compressions there is expansion. And God needs a vacation. And on Athos He is spending three weeks… – Hello, hello, are you there, on the telephone? What is God’s permanent address? – From the Milky Way take a right, Then keep to the center and go straight, There, in the foggy star cluster, You can find God… – Wait, wait… be patient… There’s no address or phone number of God In our book. What kind of nonsense is this? Who are you? Where are you calling from? – I am a poet. And I believe in miracles. I know that God is in everything: In me, in you, and in him, God is in us and thousands of others, Who are like us and different from us. God is in every corner Of my wonderful, immortal Earth, And nothing pulls me more strongly, Than to dissolve in the Universe. God is in the living and the dead, And let not me but my word, My awkward poem, Reveal the secret of existence. *** When the last hour comes, The hour of parting with you, When for the last time Your hand touches me,


I might, with my last strength Pronounce just one word, That God may forgive me everything, As He prepares me for eternity. *** The jasmine blooms; spring has come, And my wife stands by the window – She is pregnant again. Her face is lit by a ray Coming through the window, And this is the happy moment, That belongs to eternity. *** Oh, this spicy smell of summer! It’s June. I’m about to go mad. The moon has risen, and the moonlight Illuminates the trees and houses. And a cool breeze blows from the lake, And the wind rustles the foliage… And as the poet said, Nobody needs any other happiness. *** I left the house. It’s growing light. The fog stretches over the fields The pearly morning has risen To meet the earth’s skies. Ah, autumn! Luxurious and colorful! Oh, if you could see How the leaves are falling – Like amber tears of the earth.


AUGUST The whole world is filled with gray, Rain unceasingly beats against the window, And I have a presentiment that the summer, Like everything around me, is doomed. And in this very fatigue Of nature’s strength and voices There is August’s transformation And autumn’s dying call. *** Sadness is stamped on my face September is neither autumn nor summer, And in the rapid change of colors There are always thoughts of the end. But so that the world’s flawlessness Doesn’t die in vain with me, It takes the earth’s September riches For the preservation of eternity.

AN AUTUMN DAY The cows lay, squeezed against each other, And it was so quiet, so quiet, so quiet. Calm poured into nature, Like a Chopin concerto’s slow movement. The earth and trees seemed shy about their nudity To this point uncovered. Lazy clouds crawled across the sky, And in different areas of the silent sky Wedges of migrating geese could be seen, But this movement did not disrupt The calm and peace of the autumn day. But why am I here? And who missed me? Who and what missed me?


*** All of life, as in a palm, We’re in a gondolier’s boat: “Try to die like Kafka, There’s no better example. And die like Kafka, Calm and uncomplaining. Saint Mary Magdalene Won’t arrive furtively. In the Capricornus Constellation Two stars will fade. And people will disperse Calmly, indifferently. And there won’t be a Judgment, No gates will open, And the place where we are buried, Will be forgotten.”


Стихи Муси Белочкина  Жизнь идет со знаком Минус: От воспоминаний Детства К состоянию, когда некуда Деться. Доктор Пинус Из Риги Эмигрировал в Израиль, Чтобы умереть. Интересно, его Больная Жива еще или Нет? Мы с тобой не будем ссориться, Приходи ко мне в бессонницу, Приходи ко мне в разлуку, Положи на сердце руку, И пощупай и послушай, Как оно стучит. И скажи мне, в этом стуке, И скажи мне, в этом стуке, Ты не слышишь си? Ты не слышишь си? Я вступаю в эту осень В сорок восемь, в сорок восемь. Осень корчится тревогой, Перестань быть недотрогой, Поцелуй меня, потрогай. Ангел смерти Будет ждать До второй примерки, Давай друг друга Целовать До кровавой Метки. В кромешной тьме, В сплетеньи рук,


В Пастернаковском вихре, Сердец заблудших Стон и стук Согреет мир в молитве.  Не завидуйте тем, кто умирает во сне. Они умирают в полной тишине, И, наверное, перед смертью видят Страшные сны (Никто не знает, какие), Потому что те, кто умирает во сне, Своего последнего сна уже никому Не рассказывают. Смерть или её приближение Вызывает сон, смерти отражение, Ужасный по содержанию и форме: Рот и нос зажимают, Не отпуская до самой смерти, Или душат, накрывая подушкой, Или расстреливают из пушки, Или солдат в кирзовых сапогах Выплясывает на груди, Пока все тело ни превратится в месиво, Или пилят пилой, начиная С темечка и до лобка, Медленно и страшно, Или в рот заливают какую-то Мерзкую жидкость, пока ни Захлебнешься, Или, сзади подкравшись, как в фильме «Крестный отец», набрасывают шелковый Шнурок на шею, и душат, душат, Пока ни задушат. Умирающие во сне могут видеть перед Смертью сны, которые даже представить Себе невозможно. Я хочу умереть в полном сознании, Как мой отец, и видеть не тьму Сумасшедшего сна, не кошмары Дантова ада, а Свет. Любой ценой дожить до утра, До рассвета, и умереть с Первым лучом восходящего солнца.


Но будет все совсем не так. Смерть – не идиллия. Смерть придет неожиданно. Внезапно начнется головокружение, (Мой ангел смерти), Оно прижмет меня к полу Все ниже и ниже, И у меня будет достаточно Сил, чтобы не упасть, а лечь, И подумать: «Вот она, какая смерть». Потом в глазах совсем потемнеет, И я потеряю сознание. Чужие люди столпятся над моим телом, Как над Живаго. И я не знаю, кто первым из близких Примчится, Но я хочу, чтобы это была Ты. *** Весна, Несмотря ни на что, Пришла Наконец. Серых дней Круговерть Растопилась В первом синем И солнечном дне. Ты мне снова сегодня Приснилась В белом платье На белом коне. А когда я проснулся, Не стало Ни коня, Ни тебя, Ни весны. Только дождь, Моросящий устало По карнизу и краю Стены. ***


Все было будто бы вчера: Мы начинали жизнь сначала, Огнем лазурного тепла Нас обжигало и ласкало. В последний предвечерний час Стоял над морем день уставший, Упорно разжигая в нас Зарю любви, почти пропавшей. И неба серого шатер Багровым обручем светился, И Бог с альпийских синих гор Незримый к нам на пляж спустился. И, втиснувшись меж ней и мной, Он прошептал почти неслышно: «Она твой ангел неземной, Тебе послал её Всевышний. Она…» – но ветер вдруг унес Последнюю ремарку Бога. И жалко стало мне до слез, Что Он сказал мне так немного. Луна взошла и ветер стих. Никто в природе не заметил, Как Бог оставил нас одних, Чтоб жили мы, как Божьи дети. Но нас манило на Восток В желании одном и страстном. Она была у наших ног – Земля Италии прекрасной.



Кто я? И что я? Все чаще и Чаще, Наяву и во Сне, Из жизни прошлой В жизнь настоящую По ночам являются Мне Знакомые улицы, Лица, Липы и липовый Цвет, Бархатный дождь Среди белого дня… Никого и ничего Уже нет. Только ночь, Которая должна Продлиться Вечность, Когда не будет уже Ни тебя, Ни меня. *** Ругают все меня напропалую, Ругают так, что я не ем, не сплю, За то, что я не ту целую, За то, что я не ту люблю.


НА СМЕРТЬ АННЫ КАРЕНИНОЙ ПОЭМА «И осень, ясная как знаменье, К себе приковывает взоры». Б.Пастернак. Это стихотворение – О тебе И об Анне Карениной. О войне В одной светской семье, Об отсутствии мира, О первородном грехе. «Мне отмщение, и аз воздам». И о том, как я Опоздал. Эта осень золотая, Может быть, Моя последняя. Листья снова опадают Медленно, Круг за кругом, Круг за кругом, К земле. Эта осень золотая – О тебе и обо Мне. Я метался, как Левий Матвей У Булгакова: «Горе тебе Вавилон». Страшные мысли Наскакивали, Наползали со всех сторон, Звенели колокола, Тучи рвались В клочья, Я видел ясно, воочию – её, Я ощущал запах стеарина, И воздух стоял,


Не двигаясь, Не дыша, И мир апокалиптически Замер в ожидании Чего-то: В лесу, При последнем свидании, Я сказал тебе, Что я её Спасу. Толстой лежал на диване, Как барин, С закрытыми глазами Убийцы. Его сон Осуществился. Анна была раздавлена Поездом, Разорвана в клочья, Прекрасное тело уже не дышало… А осень вокруг Такая стояла, И пахло лугом, И листья ложились Друг с другом На земле, И лес сиял в божественном Уборе Неповторимой, пронзительной Желтизной, И шли у нас разговоры Между тобой и мной. Анна металась, Как Левий Матвей У Булгакова. Часть седьмая Началась, Ты беспрерывно Плакала. «Горе тебе, Вавилон». Поезд вышел, Остановка Была уже близко, Пар валил со всех Сторон.


С пункта отправления Поезд набирал скорость, Как листья в лесу… Боже, пошли мне машину Времени, И я её Спасу. Пугая дворовых И нищих, Ненормальный С утра, Я ворвался в дом В Ясной поляне. Толстой все ещё лежал На диване Из черной кожи. С полузакрытыми от горя Глазами: «Молодой человек, Вы опоздали. Я Анну убил вчера, И спорить излишне». Я вернулся к тебе, Описав разговор На самом высоком Регистре. Вдруг почувствовал я, Что кто-то в упор Смотрит на нас из-за листьев. Обернувшись, увидел я шею и грудь, И живое услышал дыхание, Это Анна, прищурившись чуть-чуть, Смотрела на нас в ожидании. Ветерок шевелил кудряшки волос, И рука тревожно дрожала. Мы услышали голос, знакомый до слез: «Я вас долго здесь поджидала. Осень нынче так хороша, как тогда, И такие же листья и запах, И так же стояла в низинах вода…


С вами я не чувствую страха. Вы хотите спросить меня О чем-нибудь на прощанье?» « Это было больно?» «Очень, пока я не потеряла сознание… Ой, смотрите, маленькая змейка, Живет, небось, впроголодь. Я бы все повторила снова, Благослови вас Господь».

Неожиданность Мое имя – Михаил Берман. А отчество " Александрович " я в Америке потерял. Тогда, Чтобы не обижать память отца, мы одному из родившихся здесь сыновей, дали имя папы. Но на этом история с именами не кончилась. Человек не может предвидеть всего. Вскоре мне понадобился литературный псевдоним, и тут помогло девичье имя мамы. Теперь, как писателя, а не только практикующего врача, меня можно найти под именем Михаил Берман-Цикиновский (In English- Mikhail Berman-Tsikinovsky). Закончим эту тему известной пословицей: не имя красит человека, а человек – имя. Итак, в 1985 году начальство отправило меня из Чикаго на гематологическую конференцию в Германию. После окончания официальной части у меня осталось 3 дня до отлета. Самолет доставлял нас в Америку из Мюнхена, и до него тоже нужно было лететь самолетом. Но я взял машину в рент, чтобы видеть живую страну, а не тучи. За каких-то 7 часов я пересек почти всю Германию с Запада на восток! Скорость на немецком хайвее практически не имеет ограничений! Не хватает только соответствующего рекламного стенда с надписью: "и какой же русский ни любит быстрой езды" Выехав рано, я попал в Мюнхен засветло. Я никого там не знал, и, не выходя из машины, просто ездил по городу. До известной пивной, которая вмещала несколько тысяч человек, и где часто выступал когда-то Гитлер, я не добрался. Когда совсем стемнело, я вспомнил, – чтобы ехать дальше, нужно было зарядить машину бензином на какойнибудь заправочной станции. В памяти остался момент (почему именно этот момент, станет ясно из дальнейшего рассказа) который навсегда оставил след в моей жизни! Когда машина выезжала из заправочной, в свет передних фар попал дорожный знак и какие-то надписи на нем. Я притормозил, и прочитал 2 надписи, (других не было) сначала верхнюю, а потом -- нижнюю, именно, в такой последовательности.


Верхняя надпись сообщала, что до Дахау – 10 километров, а нижняя – что до Зальцбурга – 150 километров. 2 Ассоциации в моей голове возникли моментально: Дахау был первым лагерем смерти в Германии, и – это Гитлер! А Зальцбург – это Моцарт! Потому что он в Зальцбурге родился, и там провел первые годы жизни. Отсчет времени пошел для меня на доли секунды: две упомянутые ассоциации "родили" Пару!! Вот она – эта Пара: Гитлер и Моцарт!! В каком-то мозговом хаосе немыслимое сосуществование двух таких имен (сами их носители жили на земле с интервалом между ними в сто лет) требовало от меня!! От моего мозга ! Ответа! И я услышал беззвучный и ритмический Ответ: который на самом раннем этапе моего знакомства с судьбоносным дорожным знаком уже обосновался в моей голове, и только ждал своего часа!!! Мои две ритмически полу повторяющиеся строки "Из тех же мест, из тех же самых" дали объяснение самой сути невиданного символического и исторического скрещения! Я благополучно вернулся домой. После командировки был по горло занят. Проходили дни, и я постепенно успокаивался. Мысли о том, чтобы что-то написать, посещавшие меня еще в самолете, оставались мыслями. Единственным, что не давало мне покоя, были строки "Из тех же мест, из тех же самых". Эта частичка стиха меня просто гипнотизировала, И в ней звучал упрек: "Мы хотим свое место в поэме", "Мы хотим свое место в поэме", "Мы хотим свое место в поэме". Мне везет в жизни на всякие неожиданности, хорошие и плохие. Итак, меня выгоняет из дому жена. Первая. Заслуженно. Я не снимаю квартиру, а устраиваюсь в моем медицинском офисе, приходя туда только на ночь. Кандидат на номер 2 выжидает, когда ее муж уйдет от нее (прошу читателей не воспринимать мою лексику, как оскорбление женщины. Я с этой женщиной живу счастливо больше 35 лет). А пока, начиная с февраля 1987 года, в медицинском офисе я в полном одиночестве, как в тюремной камере на одного, я пишу поэму Гитлер и Моцарт, и кончаю ее 15 марта в день переезда. Писал я ее примерно месяц, и это были самые счастливые дни моей жизни. С благодарностью моей жене Елене Баренгольц за помощь в этой работе. От редакции: Интересно проследить за поэтапной судьбой поэмы БерманаЦикиновского Гитлер и Моцарт. В 1991 году втор читает поэму в Санкт Петербурге в квартиремузее Римского-Корсакова. Чтение было посвящено двухсот летней годовщине со дня смерти Моцарта в 1791 году.


10 лет спустя в Петербургской филармонии прошла триумфально премьера оратории композитора Тимура Когана "Венский кадишь" на слова поэмы Гитлер и Моцарт. Ещё через год Венский кадиш (дирижировал Тимур Коган) с не меньшим успехом был исполнен в Чикаго. Исполнение было посвящено жертвам холокоста, потому что Гитлер — один из действующих лиц поэмы— был организатором убийства 6 миллионов евреев. В настоящее время достаточно на Уou Tube набрать поанглийски Viennese Kaddish чтобы выйти на 33 минутное великолепно записанное видео оратории.

ГИТЛЕР И МОЦАРТ ПОЭМА Здравствуй, Моцарт! Тебе навстречу выйдут Миллионы; Твой день рождения станет выходным Днем Для всех людей Земли; Твои мелодии рассеются В диаспоре Вселенной; Твой прах перенесут И памятник поставят В столице Мира! Хоронили: Кого? Что? Восемнадцатый век? Феодализм? Сословность? Когда гроб везли С отпевания, Из Венского Сан-Стефания, Дорогой Вдоль улиц не стояли, Как на похоронах Верди В Милане, И тысячи людей Не пели


Хора пленных рабов-иудеев Из «Набукко» Тысячами голосов. Вена в декабре Была пуста, Как бочка, Ни Голгофы, Ни креста, Только гроб, Подскакивающий на кочках. А в гробу – Несчастное тело. А все начиналось Так счастливо, как в сказке: По улицам городов И столиц, Включая Париж, Мчалась карета, Карета, Карета, Карета. Вглядитесь и вслушайтесь В слово это: КАРЕТА. Потом наступит век Поездов и вокзалов, И Анна встретится с Вронским, Автомобилями заполнятся Города и выставочные залы, И самолетами – небо, Мир перевернется, Как Гоголь в гробу, И наступит следующий век – Скучный и точный, Век обезьяньих ракет, Но никогда уже Не вернется Сказочный мир карет. В карете сидели Трое: Отец, Сын и Дочь. Маленькие герои Неслись в карете в ночь.


Карета подскакивала на кочках, И шестилетний малыш Спал, и ему, конечно, Снился сон, Прекрасный как жизнь: Ему снились какие-то парк и поляна, И люди, очень странно одетые, Мужчины – в штанах, большей частью Синих. А женщины – вообще полуголые, Все – без париков и даже лысые. Не стесняясь, Люди валялись На траве. Некоторые – в соблазнительных позах И под одеялами. Люди пили и ели Неузнаваемую жидкость, Неузнаваемую еду С неузнаваемыми запахами, И только вино было в нормальных Бутылках из нормального Стекла. Двое юношей играли в шахматы. А вокруг – люди и люди, Без конца и без края, Как вечер и вечность, Как Рай земной В июльский выходной. Сон был яркий И длинный, Как дорога. После трехчасового концерта Мальчик очень устал И крепко, крепко Спал, И мечтал поспать еще немного, Но сон, как музыка, Его не отпускал: Он видел во сне, Как постепенно Небо темнело, И звезды на небе Одна за другой Появлялись, Как музыканты На сцене


Перед началом концерта. Люди ходили, лежали и Сидели на поляне Вокруг освещенного Тысячами огней Огромного строения С длинными рядами Партера, Открытого со всех сторон. К восьми часам Начали выходить Музыканты, И маленький Вольфганг С трудом узнавал инструменты В оркестре. А позади оркестра Стали выстраиваться Ряды хора. Какой огромный хор! И какой огромный оркестр! И где это все происходит? На какой земле? И какой стране? И когда? Карета подскочила На очередной кочке, И маленький Моцарт, Открыв на мгновенье Глаза, Опять заснул, Потому что ему так Хотелось досмотреть свой Удивительный сон До конца: Дирижер вышел на сцену Под аплодисменты. И все сразу стихло Внутри строения И на поляне, И только комары Летали и жужжали. В партере свет потушили, А сцену, наоборот, Ярко осветили, И какие-то провода К оркестру и хору спустили.


Мальчик увидел себя Ангелом, зависшим Где-то между строением И поляной так, Чтобы хорошо видеть и Слышать все: Дирижер взмахнул палочкой, И полилась музыка, Которой мальчик никогда раньше Не слышал, Хотя все же что-то знакомое в ней было. Он понял, что это была месса, Похоронная месса, реквием, И это стало окончательно ясно Тогда, когда запел хор. Карета опять подскочила На кочке, И мальчик проснулся. Рядом в карете Спали отец и сестра В неловких позах. Вольфганг помнил, Что, как и вчера, Сегодня предстоит играть В богатом доме Три часа. А после концерта, Уже в гостинице, Перед тем, как лечь спать, Отец будет опять Деньги считать – Форинты, Заработанные им и его сестрой. Боже мой, А ведь сегодня воскресенье, Июль, Выходной! В семерке гениев Его звезда Горела ярче всех других, Как солнца луч! Ни до, ни после, Земля, «Такого сына не рождала Ты


И в недра не брала свои Обратно». Для тех, чей плач Наружу был не слышен, А долго плакать не хватало сил, Для тех единственных, Чей жребий был Родиться В бесстыжей и оплеванной Европе – евреями, Для тех из них, Кто был наивным И слепым, чтобы остаться Добровольно, и для тех, Кто волею судьбы Был осужден остаться, Для тех, которых я сегодня Вижу как будто наяву: Несчастных и худых, Заросших, грязных, С впалыми щеками, Бледнее стен, Дрожащими руками Сжимающих свои Колени, Молящихся бесчувственному Богу в зале. А на сцене Семерка молодых И старых, таких же, Как и все вокруг, – Евреев, держащих скрипки И готовых начать Играть; И слышу я сквозь годы Мелодию твою, всю гамму Звуков, исторгнутых из душ, Из преисподней, которых Последним помнящим, Живым еще евреям Нельзя ни позабыть, Ни передать.


А вокруг такая благодать: Вдали чернеют вершины Альп, Луга в предгорьях зеленеют, Покой, забвение и сон Нисходят мирно на долину… Из тех же мест, Из тех же самых, Из соков тех, что ты впитал, Из трав, цветов, шаров Воздушных, Из женщин – милых, добродушных, И из мужчин, Из смеси их пришел Один, такой же как и все, вначале: Кудрявый, светленький, любимый, Как все мы, Матерью своей… Никто не знал тогда, Что в ней, В её несчастном чреве, Зачат и вскормлен был Не бык, а человек. И без него Другими б были Еврейский Бог, Еврейский век. Глухое Венское подворье: Свеча горит у изголовья, Констанция больна, разбита, Её душа объята страхом, За девять лет, что вместе жили, Они гроша не накопили, Одни долги, долги, счета, И в перспективе – нищета. Вдова не ведает, не знает, И даже не предполагает, Что вскоре после похорон Концерты все счета покроют, Долги заплачены все будут, Что вскоре слава её мужа Затмит собою славу королей, Всех сильных мира, Всех царей! Что через сорок лет


Русский Александр Пушкин Непревзойденным чутьем поэта Почувствует И первым объявит об этом На столетия вперед: Что сколько ни будет жить Человечество, У разных народов и отечеств (и даже у евреев) Образцом гениальности Останется Моцарт, А зависти – Сальери! Несли за руки и за ноги, В мешках завязанных несли, Так умирали в прошлом боги И неудачники цари. Несли в огонь, в костер и в пламя, Под грохот канонад и бомб, И было жутким расставанье С тем, кто им был и царь, и Бог! Все заняло не больше часа… Ирак, Иран, Корея, Большой войны нет. За шесть миллионов евреев – Шесть миллионов лет (По году за каждого) мира Земле и Вселенной. Пусть: Мозаики Богом забытой Равенны Навевают грусть. Пусть: Жизнь никогда не кончится, И поэме не будет конца, И никогда не сотрется Память отца. Пусть: Война еще где-то корчится, И люди убивают друг друга Пока. Но верьте, Будут стоять храмы в Греции


Тысячелетия и века! Дома в Венеции, Где умер Вагнер, Где жили Байрон, Моцарт и Марко Поло, И в вечность будет плыть гондола! Прощайте, прощайте, прощайте, Гитлер и Моцарт. Один и другой Всегда будут со мной. Все, что есть в человечестве Самого лучшего И самого худшего, Будет во мне Напоминанием О бесконечном страдании И беспредельном счастье… Прощайте, прощайте, прощайте… Другие события и дела Зовут меня. Эта страница книги Должна быть перевернута, Как должен закончится этот Век войн, век бойнь, который следовал За веком революций— В тысячелетии грядущем Наступит вечный мир! ДАНТЕ ПОЭМА Данте – это О себе. «Восемьдесят тысяч верст Вокруг самого себя», Как сказал Алданов о Толстом. Я начинаю с середины, С той самой первой половины, Со сливовых глаз Эльвины, С моей вины, саднящей без конца, С предсмертного стона отца «Спасите, спасите, спасите!»


С середины дня, С солнца в зените, С тех незапамятных Времен, которых Уже нет. Сентябрь прощается с летом, Коротким, как жизнь, Туманами и дождями, И мир меняет свой цвет, И мы меняемся сами. Данте – это о Тебе: Прощание с тобой – Столь Позднее прощание. Не сбиться бы с пути И быть самим Собой. Всегда. Везде. Во всем. Прощание с тобой – Прощанье с отчим Домом, Прощание с судьбой. Поэты – индикаторы Вселенной, Её честнейшие и Лучшие умы. Отец их спит Тяжелым сном Равенны Во власти вечности И тьмы. Спустя века Потомки бережливо Под плитами хранят Священный груз. Поэзия есть самая Счастливая И самая Несчастная Из муз. Прощание с тобой – Нелегкое прощание.


Мир цвет переменил Совсем. Осенний холод, Как по расписанию, Как смерть, Овладевает всем. Последний вздох Желтеющих лесов Тобою был Увиден и услышан. Могла б ли ты Простить меня За все, Или мне ждать Прощенья Свыше? Данте, Милый, Я всю жизнь Опаздывал, И сейчас опоздал На 666 лет. Ты – начало Всему, Ты – начало начал, Первый на земле поэт. Я попал к тебе с третьей Попытки: Первый раз я в Италии был Не за собственный счет, а Казенный. Во второй раз был занят Другим делом. В третий раз, наконец, Я приехал в Равенну И привез тебе стихотворение Из прошлого: «Благослови меня, Господь, В последний путь, на смерть, на муки, И мою немощную плоть, И мои немощные руки.


Благослови детей своих, Чтоб справедливо они жили, Чтоб матерей они любили, Как матери любили их. Благослови движенья рек И глаз осеннюю усталость, И те сто миллиардов лет, Что нам до сжатия осталось, – Благослови». — Данте, Милый, Что ты скажешь? — Вот мой ответ тебе: «Ворованное счастье – Не счастье. Предательству – Нет оправдания. Смерть не пришла Вчера – Придет сегодня». Дыхание. Вздох. Все. Вздох. Все. Все. Вздох. Все. Все. Все. Вечность. *** Я могу быть умнее всех, И могу быть глупее всех. Я могу быть сильнее всех, И могу быть слабее всех. Я могу быть честнее всех, И могу быть подлее всех. Я могу быть богаче всех, И могу быть беднее всех.


Только я не могу умереть, Чтоб не видеть, не слышать, не знать, Чтоб не жить, не любить, не гореть, Не жалеть, не просить, не давать. Для чего мы живем? Для кого? После нас будет только гранит, Если дети поставят его. Для кого мы живем? Для чего? Я сегодня как будто созрел Для стихов, для любви, для борьбы. Я сегодня как будто созрел Для своей, а не общей судьбы. Я могу быть добрее всех, И могу быть нежнее всех. Но я знаю, что мне не найти В этой жизни никчемной ответ, По какому пути идти, Где то счастье, которого нет. Есть у каждого свой мирок. Свой очаг. Сует суета. Есть у каждого свой огонек, Ни к чему моя доброта. Снится мне новогодний сон: Ты сидишь на моих коленях И взасос целуешь меня. В этот миг ты нежнее всех… На исходе последнего дня Года такого страшного, Года такого прекрасного, На исходе последнего дня Года шестьдесят третьего, Все тебе отдаю, до последнего, Все, что есть у меня. Я поэт до мозга костей, До последнего волоска, Не нужна мне чужая постель, Пусть останутся боль и тоска, А когда станет жизнь невтерпеж


И тебя захочу наяву, Ты придешь? Ты придешь? Ты придешь? Я тебе позвоню, Я тебя позову. *** Я еврей, живущий в рассеяньи. Моя цель безупречно проста: Я б хотел быть умнее Эйнштейна, Я б хотел быть добрее Христа. *** Была зима, И нет зимы, Была семья, И нет семьи. *** Живое существо, Живое божество. *** Плывут пароходы, Идут поезда. Идут не оттуда, Плывут не туда. *** Из тысяч северных сияний, Из миллионов Энтропий, Из миллиардов сочетаний Небесных и земных стихий, Из бесконечных разветвлений


Вселенной «чистой красоты» Явился миру светлый гений – Герой несбывшейся мечты. *** Старики, бестолково прожившие жизнь, Ваши годы, как кони, давно пронеслись. Что теперь вам осталось? Штаны протирать, Никого не любя, не обманывая… Для себя – я б хотел, умирая, рыдать Над последнею нотой Рахманинова. *** Есть место, где стоят осины. Стволы свои к земле склонив, Напоминают мне Россию, Где я родился и где жил. Они – как сестры мне родные, Они – мне радость и печаль. Стоят осины на чужбине, И никому их здесь не жаль. *** Теперь могу спокойно умереть я. Не потому, что переполнен ад, А потому, что ангелы бессмертья Уже ко мне летят. *** Девочке, ожидавшей меня 4 месяца, чтобы умереть. — Помогите, помогите, помогите! (Я все время слышу этот крик). — Люди! Что же вы стоите! Помогите! Или разума меня лишите! Или прикусите мне язык! Только ради Бога, помогите!


*** Больничный режим существует для того, Чтобы его нарушать, Мужья и жены – чтобы им изменять, Дети – чтобы их холить и любить, Жизнь – чтобы её прожить. Смерть существует, Как выход из безвыходного положения, Война – как массовое развлечение, (Сюда же относятся такие явления, Как пожары, крушения, Наводнения и землетрясения). Авиационные катастрофы Существуют для того, Чтобы о них писали в газетах. (Но, чтобы каждый считал, что это Не имеет к нему отношения). Слава Богу, никто не знает, Для чего существует любовь. Ибо она – и больница и кровь, И муж и жена, И дети и жизнь, И смерть и война, И все другие явления, И даже – более того… — Самари, ты не знаешь – Любовь – для чего? *** Решение, решение, решение… Разрежьте меня решением на части, Кожу и мясо от костей отделите, (Внутренности выбросьте), Кости под мельничные жернова положите, Из моих костей мукý намелите, Из муки - тесто замесите. (Не забудьте, не забудьте, не забудьте Соль добавить в тесто, А то будет невкусно). А из теста пирог испеките. Как только пирог готов – На стол его, на стол!


Весь март, весь апрель – в пирогах! До чего ж пироги хороши! А душа моя на небесах – Ничего не надо для души. Так скорей собирайте гостей На пирог из моих костей! Доставайте нож, разрезайте, вкусно как! Хвалят… кто-то второй кусок берет… Отчего ты жуешь и жуешь без устали, Мой дорогой, мой огромный рот?! Это я кричу с небес неистово (Душа вдруг обрела и голос, и плоть). Боже мой, как выстоять, выстоять, выстоять, Как все это выдержать, Господь?! *** Мне жаль не лет, не прожитых с тобою, А ощущенья бытия, Того – что не изведал я, Того – что не было с другою. *** Ты отошел, а я осталась, Со мною – дети и слова: «В любви нужна такая малость – Чтоб ты был жив и я была жива». *** Есть старый сад. Как в богадельне, С подпорками стоят В нем очень старые деревья. Я их люблю до крайности, до боли, До сухости во рту. Нет ничего печальней доли Бездомных яблонь в том саду.


*** Никто не знает, кто на что способен В круговороте этих судьбоносных дней, И только я смертельно болен Любовью к бедной Родине моей. *** — Пожалуйста, узнайте для меня, Какой у Бога номер телефона. — Нам нужен адрес… На исходе дня В долине возле Нового Афона Стоит туман. Монастыря не видно И ничего вокруг. И Бог без ангелов и слуг В одежде нищего монаха Обходит монастырский двор, И жадно пьет он воду ключевую, И жизнь земную узнает В упор, вплотную. Во всей Вселенной дел невпроворот, Следить за всем – одно мученье: Какой-нибудь дурак нажмет рычаг не тот, И вместо сжатия начнется расширенье. И Богу отпуск нужен. И в Афоне Он три недели проведет… — Алло, алло, вы здесь, на телефоне? Где п о с т о я н н о Бог живет? — От Млечного пути берите вправо, Потом держитесь к центру прямо, И там, в скопленьи звездного тумана, Вы Бога можете найти… — Ждите, ждите… потерпите… В нашей книге ни адреса, ни телефона Бога нет. Какой-то бред. Кто – вы? И звоните откуда?


— Я – поэт. И верю в чудо. Я знаю, Бог во всем: Во мне, в тебе и в нем, Бог в нас самих и тысячах других, Таких, как мы, и не таких. Бог в каждом уголке Земли моей, Прекрасной и нетленной, И нету тяги для меня сильней, Чем раствориться во Вселенной. Бог в мертвых и живых, И пусть уже не я, А слово, мой корявый стих, Откроет тайну бытия. *** Когда придет последний час, Час расставания с тобою, Когда меня в последний раз Коснешься ты своей рукою, Я, может, из последних сил Произнесу одно лишь слово, Чтоб Бог мне все тогда простил, Меня для вечности готовя. *** Жасмин цветет, пришла весна, И у окна стоит жена — Опять беременна она. Лицо её освещено Лучом, идущим сквозь окно, И это тот счастливый миг, Что вечности принадлежит. *** О, этот пряный запах лета! Июнь. Готов сойти с ума. Луна взошла, и лунным светом Блестят деревья и дома.


И веет с озера прохладой, И ветер шевелит листву… И, как сказал поэт, не надо Иного счастья никому. *** Я вышел из дому. Светало. Стелúлся туман по лугам. Жемчужное утро вставало Навстречу земным небесам. Ах, осень! Пышна и цветиста! О, если бы все так могли Увидеть, как падают листья – Янтарные слезы земли. АВГУСТ Весь мир наполнен серым цветом, Дождь беспрерывно бьет в окно, И есть предчувствие, что лето, Как все вокруг –обречено. И в этом самом утомленьи Природных сил и голосов Есть августа преображенье И осени предсмертный зов. *** Печать печали на лице. Сентябрь – не осень и не лето, И в скорой перемене цвета Всегда есть мысли о конце. Но чтобы мира безупречность Со мной не умирала зря, Земную роскошь сентября Возьмет на сохраненье вечность.


ОСЕННИЙ ДЕНЬ Коровы лежали, прижавшись друг к другу, И было так тихо, так тихо, так тихо. Спокойствие было разлито в природе, Как в медленной части концерта Шопена. Земля и деревья, казалось, стеснялись Своей наготы, до сих пор не прикрытой. По небу скользили ленивые тучи, И в разных участках безмолвного неба Видны были клинья гусей перелетных, Но это движение не нарушало Покоя и мира осеннего дня. А я был зачем? И кому не хватало, Кому и чему не хватало меня? *** Вся жизнь, как на ладони. Мы в лодке гондольера: «Попробуй жить, как Кафка, Нет лучшего примера. И умереть, как Кафка, Безропотно и тихо. Святая Магдалина К нам не придет украдкой. В созвездьи Козерога Две звездочки погаснут. И разойдутся люди Спокойно, безучастно. И суд не состоится, Ворота не откроют, И место позабудут, Где нас с тобой зароют».


Introduction ............................................................................................. 3 BORROWED TIME ................................................................................. 8 PART ONE ............................................................................................ 8 The Trolley .......................................................................................... 8 War and Peace ................................................................................ 10 Peace after the War....................................................................... 14 School ................................................................................................. 17 About Myself and Anna Karenina ........................................... 20 Pushkin and My First Loves ...................................................... 22 Karina ................................................................................................. 25 Time and Us ..................................................................................... 26 Alina .................................................................................................... 31 Chapter 10 ........................................................................................ 33 On the Threshold of a New Life ............................................... 33 PART TWO ........................................................................................ 35 Family Secrets ................................................................................. 35 The Telegram .................................................................................. 40 War Tragedies ................................................................................. 44 School ................................................................................................. 53 After School ..................................................................................... 64 PART THREE.................................................................................... 72 The Oncology Ward ...................................................................... 72 Luisa .................................................................................................... 80 A Confrontation .............................................................................. 93 Reincarnation ................................................................................ 104 237

Italian Capriccio ........................................................................... 108 PART FOUR .................................................................................... 113 The Geography Teacher ............................................................ 113 Yulia................................................................................................... 139 Musya Sits in the John ................................................................ 157 PART FIVE ...................................................................................... 164 Epilogue ........................................................................................... 164 PART SIX.......................................................................................... 176 Poems of Musya Belochkin ...................................................... 176 Стихи Муси Белочкина........................................................... 206


Issuu converts static files into: digital portfolios, online yearbooks, online catalogs, digital photo albums and more. Sign up and create your flipbook.