Monday, 20 September 2010

01. October 15, 2008

Dear Mikhail Borisovich!

I've got the opportunity to write to you, and I am very glad for this. My family history is such that my grandfathers were in prison for more than twenty years in total, and friends from the sixties generation also made their contribution to this kettle. And besides, this topic is very significant for Russian literature - so much that, in the past month, I even wrote the foreword to the book По тюрьмам - Po tyurmam [Through prisons] by Eduard Limonov [2] - a man of many faces, and barely respectable. I also happen to be supervising editor of a book for children called Crime and Punishment - which is also about the history of prisons and types of punishment. Therefore, if we really do get to meet - which I would like very much indeed - this is one of the things I would like to discuss. After all, you know that there are two points of view: Solzhenitsyn [3] considered that the experience of jail toughens a person and is very valuable in and from itself, while another, less fortunate prisoner, Varlam Shalamov [4], believed that it had no benefit for normal human life and was irrelevant outside prison.

The last years of Yuliy Daniel’s [5] life we were on friendly terms, and even though he did not like to talk about this period, I nevertheless got the impression that it was a very important ordeal, one that was connected in his mind with his experience at the front. But in any case, for you the time has not yet come to have musings about the past, today this is your real life. How do you manage to deal with it? Don't you feel you're living in a nightmare? I would like to know how your system of values has changed: what things that seemed important outside prison have lost meaning in the camp? Do you find yourself developing new inner resources, some kind of unexpected experiences?

This letter of mine - forgive me! - is just a stab in the dark: after all, you are someone people are constantly talking about and remembering, for some you are a fighter and a keen political figure, for others you’re a bogeyman, but either way, your situation has turned out to be endlessly discussed, while the interest in you does not fade. In her time, Anna Akhmatova [6] said about Brodsky [7], when they banished him: - “They are making a biography for our redhead”. They truly are making a biography for you, and I would like to be able to speak about this in the past tense. And this is also one of the reasons why I would like to meet with you and have a chat with you.


Lyudmila Ulitskaya


[2] Edward Limonov (°1943) is a French citizen and a Russian writer. He’s a dissident opponent of Vladimir Putin and a political ally of Garry Kasparov as a leader of Kasparov's Другая Россия - Drugaya Rossiya [Other Russia] political bloc. The political scientist and Russian expert Stephen Shenfield (Brown University) considers him a fascist.

[3] Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008) was a Russian writer who was regarded as a dissident in the 70’s. He was rehabilitated and got even the State Prize of the Russian Federation in 2007. Because of his poor health, the prize was personally handed over to him at home by the then Russian President Vladimir Putin, a former officer of the KGB, the organization that had made his life miserable.

[4] Varlam Shalamov (1907-1982) was a Russian writer, journalist, poet and Gulag survivor.

[5] Yuly Daniel (1925-1988) was a Soviet dissident writer, poet, translator, political prisoner and gulag survivor. He frequently wrote under the pseudonyms Nikolay Arzhak (Николай Аржак) and Yu. Petrov (Ю.Петров).

[6] Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966) was a modernist poet and one of the most acclaimed female writers in the Russian literature.

[7] Joseph Brodsky (1940-1996) was a Soviet-Russian-American poet, essayist, and Nobel Laureate in Literature. In 1963, he was arrested and in 1964 charged with social parasitism by the Soviet authorities. He was expelled from the USSR in 1972 and moved to the United States where he was naturalized in 1977.

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