• 11 September, 2020 11:54 am


Why did I write you about this today? Why did I want to begin with this ?

It’s ten years since then, quite a long time for our hectic, supersonic age. Since then, I haven’t been back once to the gloomy dacha at Kuntsevo and I no longer go to the Kremlin. There’s nothing to draw me to either place. My father never cared about possessions. He led a puritanical life, and the things that belonged to him said very little about him. The ones he left behind his house, his rooms and his apartment give no clue to what he was like. 

The only places I enjoy thinking back on are the ones I lived in with my mother: the apartment we had in the Kremlin up to 1932, and Zubalovo, our dacha near Usovo. You could feel my mother’s presence in both of them. I shall tell you about this later.

Ten years have gone by. My life has changed very little. I live, as always did, in my father’s shadow. As before, my children and I still have a comparatively secure life. As before the attention of some, the dislike of others and the curiosity of absolutely everyone, disappointments and the upsets weather deserved or not, to say nothing of the many expressions of loyalty and love that I do not deserve– all these things continue to weigh on me and hem me in on all sides as they did while my father was alive.   I can’t break out of these confines.

He is gone, but his shadow still stands over all of us. It still dictates to us and we, very often, obey.

Meanwhile, life is in ferment all around us. An entire generation has grown up to whom neither the name of Stalin nor a great deal else, both good and bad, that is associated with his name means anything at all. This generation will usher in a life of which we know nothing. We shall see what it turns out to be like. People want to be happy. They want culture and knowledge. They want the way of life the rest of Europe has enjoyed for so long to come to Russia at last. They want to speak all languages and visit every country on earth. They are hungry for all these things and can hardly wait for them. They want comfortable, smart clothing and decent furniture, not village homespun and clumsy, old-fashioned things. They eagerly adopt everything from abroad- dress, hair styles, ideas, art, own achievements and our own Russian traditions.  And who can condemn them? It’s natural enough, after all, after so many years of austerity and living in puritanical style, of being walled off from the rest of the world.

It’s not for me to condemn. I don’t particularly like abstract art, for instance, but I can see why it appeals not just to half-educated adolescents but to people who are anything but stupid. It isn’t for me to argue with them They have a keener sense of the present and future than Ido. Why should anyone try to keep them from thinking as they please?

There’s no danger in al lthese harmless enthusiasms. The danger lies in a know-nothing, Philistine attitude, in not caring about anything, old or new, foreign or domestic. The danger lies in ignorance and the complacent assumption that in our  time everything has already been achieved and that if the production of pig iron, eggs and milk can be raised, then the paradise dreamed of by a benighted humanity will truly have come into being.

Forgive me if I stray from the point. I was thinking about the fact that my life hasn’t changed much during the past ten years. I spend all my time thinking over what’s happened and trying to make sense of it all. It’s the kind of thing that can drive you out of your mind. Isn’t this what poor Hamlet did and didn’t he despise himself for it? 

My Weird and preposterous double life goes on as before. I’m still living, as I did ten years ago, an outer life that is one thing and an inner life that is something quite else again. My outer life is secure and I live as before, somewhere on the fringe of the government elite, enjoying the same material privileges. My inner life, on the other hand, is one of total alienation from all these people, from their customs and interests, their spirit and deeds, and it is an alienation I feel even more strongly than ever. When I tell you how my life took shape, you’ll see that it had to be this way, both before and now.

I’m not the kind who can write about what I don’t know and haven’t seen with my own eyes. I’m not a professional writer. I’d never attempt to write a biography of my father, which, after all, would have to cover twenty years of the last century and half of this one. I can only judge what I saw and experienced myself or what is at least within the limits of my own understanding. I can write about the twenty Seven that I spent with my father, about the people who came to his house or were cloxe to him,  about everything that was around us and made upp our  life, about the various individuals and their conflicting efforts to shape it, and maybe I can write about other things, too. All this covered only a small part, about a third , of my father’s life, and an even smaller part, perhaps just a microscopic fraction, of life in general. But all of life must be looked at through a microscope. We’ve become too accustomed to making over-all judgments. Isn’t this, after all, the root of all our superficial intolerance and dogmatism?

The life of the tiny cross-section of society that was my family was, as a Soviet literary critic might put it, typical.

The twentieth century and the Revolution turned everything upside down. Wealth and poverty, pauper and aristocrat all changed places. Yet with all the reshuffling and the dislocation, all the impoverishment and redistribution of wealth, Russia was still Russia, still a country that had to go on living and building itself up and moving forward, trying to assimilate new things, keep up with the rest of the world, catch up and even move ahead.

Maybe in the midst of so much turmoil there is something of interest to be found in family chronicles, in the portraits of people who were close to us but unknown to the world outside. You say you are interested in everything. Maybe it’s interesting to you. But I’m by no means sure it will be of deep interest to anybody else. Everyone, of course, will be curious.

Not far from Kuntsevo there’s a dark empty house where my father spent the last twenty years of his life, after the death of my mother. T have said that the enigma of my father is not to be deciphered from his possessions, since he gave them no importance, Could it be that 1 am wrong? For this house is in some ways like his life during those last twenty years, But it has no associations for me. I never liked it.

Miron MeretnnGy, who built my father several dachas in the south, built the house in 1934. It was wonderful, airy, modern, one-story dachas set in a garden, among woods and flowers. The roof was a vast sun deck when I loved to run and play. I remember how the whole family came out to see the new house and how noisy and cheerful it was, My mother’s sister, Anna, and her husband, Stanislav  (Stakh) Redens, came there. So did my mother’s brother, Uncle Pavel (Pavlusha), and his wife Evgenia. Uncle Alexander (Alyosha) and Aunt Maria Svanidze were there, too, and my brothers Yakov (Yasha) and Vasily (Vasya). Things were still going along just as they had before. The house was happy and full of people as it had been in my mother’s day, Everybody brought their children. The children shouted and played, and my father enjoyed it very much. My mother’s parents came, too, It’s not true that after my mother died her family repudiated my father. On the contrary, they all did their best to make him happy. They treated him with consideration, and he was cordial and kind to them all.

But Beria’s pince-nez was already gleaming in a corner somewhere, though he was still humble and inconspicuous. He came up from Georgia from time to time to “pay homage” to my father and to look at the new dacha, Everyone close to us hated him, starting with the Redenses and the Svanidzes, who knew his work in the Georgian Cheka! only too well. Everyone in the family loathed him and felt a premonition of fear, especially my mother, who, as my father himself told me, “made scenes” and insisted as early as 1929 that “that man must not be allowed to set foot in our house.” 

My father told me about it later, when I was grown up: “I asked her what was wrong with him, Give me facts. I’m not convinced. I see no facts! But she just cried out, ‘What facts do you need? I just see he’s a scoundrel! I won’t have him here!’ I told her to heII. He’s my friend. He’s a good Chekist. He helped us forstall the Mingrelian uprising” in Georgia. I trust him. Facts, facts are what I need!”

My poor, clever mother. The facts came later.

Back in 1934, at the dacha in Kuntsevo, we had plenty of visitors. We were happy then.

One wouldn’t know the house now. My father had it rebuilt over and over again. Probably he was just unable to find peace of mind, for the same thing happened with all his houses. He would go south to one of his vacation retreats, and by the time he went back the next summer the place would have been rebuilt all over again. Either there was too little sunshine for him or it needed a terrace in the shade. If there was one floor it needed two, and if there were two, well, better tear one down.

Thus it was with the dacha at Kuntsevo. There are two floors now. No one ever lived on the second, since my father was all alone. Did he, perhaps, want me and my brother and the grand-children to live there? I don’t know. If so, he never mentioned it. He built the second floor in 1948. The following year he held a large reception in the big room there for a delegation of visitors from China.  The second floor was never used again.

My father lived on the ground floor. He lived  in one room,in fact, and made it do for everything. He slept on the sofa, made up at night as bed and had telephones on the table beside it.  The large dining table was piled high with documents, newspapers and books, He used one end for eating when he was alone. There was a side board for China and it has medicines in one of the compartments. My father picked out his medicines himself,  since only the doctor he trusted was Vinogradov, when he called once or twice a year. The great, soft rug and the fireplace were all the luxury my father wanted.

The other rooms, which Mezhanov originally designed as a separate office, bedroom and dining room, were all exactly like this one. Once in a while my father moved into one them and rearranged it in his usual way.

After the war, during my father’s last years, the whole Polit buro came for dinner nearly every night. They are in the main room, where my father also saw visitors. I seldom went into this one. and the only foreigner I saw there was Josip Broa Tito in 1946. But alt the other leaders of the foreign Communist parties-English. American, French and Italian -have been there, very likely. It was in this room that my father lay in March, 1953. A sota by the wall was his deathbed.

Once Merzhanov made a “nursery of several rooms, but later they were converted into a single room as impersonal as all the rest, with its sofa, table and rug. What had been a bedroom became a bare passageway. It had a bookcase and a wardrobe. The piano was there, to00, as it annoyed my father in the main room. When and why the piano appeared l have no idea I don’t think it was ever used.

What 1 liked about the house was the wonderful garden and terraces on every side. My father spent every day from spring to fall out on the terraces. During his later years he was especially fond of the small terrace on the west side where he could watch the setting sun. The terrace faced on a garden. A small, glassed-in veranda that had been built after the war looked out on a garden with flowering cherries

The garden, the flowers and the woods that surrounded the dacha were my father’s hobby and relaxation. He never dug in the earth or took a shovel in his hands the way real gardeners do. But he liked things to be cultivated and kept up. He liked the blossoms to be abundant. He liked to see ripe red cherries, apples and tomatoes everywhere, and he expected the gardener t feel the same way. Once in a while he took a pair of shears and pruned a twig or two, but that was the extent of his gardening. Scattered throughout ne garden and woods which were mowed and kept up like a park, were little summerhouses. Some had roots and other were open to the sky. Some were nothing but a wooden floor with a table, a deck chair, a wicker chaise longue. My father spent hours roaming the garden as if he were seeking a quiet, comfortable spot and finding it. In summer he spent days at a time wandering out of doors had his official documents, newspapers and tea brought to  him in the park. This was luxury a he wanted and understood it. It showed his healthy appetite for life, his enduring love of nature and the soil. It showed his common sense, too, for in later years he wanted to continue in good health and live longer.

The time I was at Kuntsevo two months before he died, I had a nasty surprise. There were blown-up magazine photographs of children all over the walls, a boy skiing, a girl drinking goat’s milk from a horn, children under cherry trees and so on. There was practically a gallery of drawings—reproductions, not even originals—by the artist Yar-Kravchenko in the big room. They were supposed to be likenesses of writers like Gorky and Sholokhov and others I can’t remember, There was also a framed reproduction of Repin’s? famous “Reply of the Zaporozhe Cossacks to the Sultan” in the main room, My father loved this picture and took great pleasure in reciting the obscene reply itself to anyone who happened to be handy. Even higher on the wall there was a portrait of Lenin, by no means one of the best.

It was all weird and surprising to me, since my father had never cared at all about pictures and photographs. The sole exception was the apartment in Moscow. After my mother died, huge photographs of her were hung in my father\s office and the dining foom there. But my father wasn’t living there at the time, and it didin’t mean anything. The idea that Stalin lived in the Kremlin is a false one, I can’t imagine who thought it up. It is true only in the sense that my father’s office and work were in the the Kremlin, in the building of the Presidium of the Central Committee and the Council of Ministers.

Strange things happened at Kuntsevo after my father died. The very next day—it was well before the funeral—Beria had the whole household, servants and bodyguards, called together and told that my father’s belongings were to be removed right away—no one had any idea where—and that they were all to quit the premises. 

Nobody argued with Beria. Men and women who didn’t have the slightest idea what was happening and who were practically in a state of shock packed up my father’s possessions, his books and furniture and china, and tearfully loaded them onto trucks. They were all carted off somewhere, to the sort of warehouse the secret police had plenty of.* Servants who had worked for my father devotedly for ten or fifteen years were simply thrown out. Every one of them was sent away. A good many officers of the bodyguard were transferred to other cities. Two of them shot themselves. No one knew what was going on or what they were guilty of or why they were being picked on. But in the Ministry of State Security, of which, under the system my father had himself unfortunately approved, all his household staff were employees, everyone was required to obey unquestioningly any order from above. I was not consulted about any of this at the time and learned of it only much later.

In 1955, when Beria himself had “fallen,” they started restoring the dacha. My father’s things were brought back. The former servants and commandants were invited back an helped put everything where it belonged and make the hous look as it had before. They were preparing to open a museum, like the one in Lenin’s house at Leninskiye Gorki.> But then came the Twentieth Party Congress.® After that, of course, any

thought of a museum was dropped. The service building in which my father’s bodyguards used to live are now a hospital or sanatorium. But the house itself is gloomy, closed up, dead. Sometimes I have a nightmare about this house and the forbidding rooms that always seemed empty, and I wake up cold with fright.

The road there from Poklonnaya Gora is a tree-lined alley now where residents of the new buildings on Kutuzoy Boulevard go for relaxation. From the highway leading to the university you can see how the woods that surround the house have grown dense and wild. This is a house of gloom, a somber monument. Not for anything in the world would I go there now! Is it perhaps after all, a fitting memorial to what we the call “era of the cult of personality”? My father loved this house it reflects his taste and he liked it there. Maybe his soul, so restless everywhere else, still long for shelter under its roof. It  would be natural enough place for it to dwell.

But once upon a time we had another house, too. Imagine that at one time we lived in quite different house, a house that was sunny and gay, filled with the sounds of children’s voices and cheerful, openhearted people. This was the house my mother created and presided over, a house that was filled with her presence. In this house my father was neither a god nor a “cult,” but just the father of a family. Named Zubalovo, after the prerevolutionary owner, it Is a little over a mile from where I am now, not far from Usovo and less than twenty miles from the center of Moscow.

My parents made it their home from 1919 until my mother died in 1932. Afterward, my father couldn’t bear to remain either there or in their old apartment in the city. He took over another apartment in the Kremlin, where we children lived without him. For himself, he built the new dacha at Kuntsevo.

As for us, children, grandparents and the rest of the family at least until some of them were arrested and sent away we spent summers as before at Zubalovo. But without my mother nothing was the same. Life was changed out of all recognition. 

Let me tell you about the life created and supervised by my mother. Those cloudless years were a fairy tale. I spent them nearby, not far from the place. Do you see now why I can’t tear myself away from Zhukovka, where I am sitting in the woods and writing this ?

( source : Book from named, ‘Twenty letters to a Friend’)

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