Turgenovsky – 50 Years of Literary Excellence, Novy Mir, December, 1975
This month we celebrate the achievements of one of the most remarkable literary figures of the twentieth century. But Ivan Fyodorovich Turgenovsky is so much more than just a writer. He is a man of the people. Here is someone who has trodden the revolutionary path every step of the way. To commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the release of his celebrated debut novel, a gala dinner is being held at the Grand Kremlin Palace. This will mark the start of a week long series of special events. In fifty of our major cities, streets will be renamed in Turgenovsky’s honour. Statues will be erected in both Leningrad and Moscow. Schools and universities will host literary festivals based on his best-loved work. Never a man to seek the spotlight, the immensely popular Turgenovsky deserves such recognition for his outstanding contribution to Soviet Literature.
On the night of the gala dinner Turgenovsky and his wife strolled along the golden corridors of the Grand Kremlin Palace. Liveried doormen and distinguished guests cast curious glances in their direction.
‘Is that Turgenovsky?’ they all seemed to be saying at once. ‘And who’s that young woman by his side…surely not his wife? I heard he’d finally got married but…’
Her black gown bare at one shoulder, Kira’s diamond encrusted tiara and matching necklace dazzled the eyes. In a white dinner-jacket, his long hair shimmering past his shoulders, Turgenovsky looked just as impressive, as he smiled and nodded to old colleagues and high-ranking Party officials. There was both envy and disbelief in eyes which seemed to be following the couple’s every move. Conquests from Turgenovsky’s younger days could only look on and gossip as the Soviet elite gravitated towards husband and wife.
Andropov, now a frail-looking old man, grabbed one of Turgenovsky’s hands and shook it warmly.
‘Ivan Fyodorovich! It’s been such a long time. You look wonderful, you really do. How are things? Need I ask? Look at your wife - so young, so beautiful. You’ve finally settled down, eh? And about time, too – I told you – a good woman was just what you needed. Yes. We’ve certainly missed you. At Party functions, we always propose a toast to our finest socialist writer, “Things are not the same without Ivan Fyodorovich.’”
Turgenovsky bowed his head in appreciation.
‘You’re far too kind, Yuri Vladimirovich. I used to miss Moscow terribly. But things change and people move on, and fortunately, I was lucky enough to meet my wonderful wife.’ He squeezed Kira’s hand. ‘Having always dedicated myself to higher things than my own personal happiness - my books, my work at the Writers’ Union, and with the Party, of course - I felt married life was one of those things that had passed me by. Never did I think I’d be so contented. Now my life has entered a very different stage, a more sedate, but ultimately, very satisfying stage.’
Andropov lowered his voice, as if they were talking forty years ago.
‘Things are changing with the Party, too. We’re undergoing some radical internal reforms. Unfortunately, having witnessed so much over so many years, I fear I may have outlived my usefulness. It’s time for younger, more energetic men in the Party to take up the reins.’
‘Nonsense,’ said Turgenovsky. ‘I’m sure your experience is still invaluable, and your ascension to General Secretary would be a very positive move.’
Andropov waved these words away.
‘No, no, men of our age have had their time.’
Turgenovsky felt almost offended. Any fool could see he was at the peak of his powers, and that his best years were still ahead of him. A ceremony like this was all well and good - it gave him a chance to shine, and show off his beautiful young wife - but his crowning literary achievement would certainly be the book he was currently working on.
Andropov pointed to a balding man in his late forties with a distinctive wine stain birthmark on his forehead.
‘Men like young Gorbachev are the future now. Let me introduce you. Mikhail! Mikhail!’
Gorbachev acknowledged Andropov, and excusing himself, left the people he had been previously talking to.
‘Ivan, this is comrade Gorbachev. Have you two met before?’
‘Briefly, some time ago,’ said Gorbachev. ‘I am of course well-acquainted with your mighty body of work, comrade Turgenovsky, especially your first novel – a true masterpiece. My parents used to read it to me in bed at night. You’ve been such a positive force in our society, and it would be nice to think that we could rely on someone like you in the future, someone who transcends generations, who’s widely respected throughout the socialist world.’
Once again, Turgenovsky bowed his head in appreciation.
‘I have so many ideas,’ Gorbachev continued. ‘There has to be much more openness in our society. Our paranoia and isolation are strangling us from within. Our relations with the West must change radically, too. Families who’ve worked so hard and remained so loyal to the Party shouldn’t have to queue for a simple loaf of bread! Our citizens have been through enough - the Stalinist repressions, the forced-labour camps, the Great Patriotic War…’
Years ago, Turgenovsky would have switched off at this point, and nodded his head whenever it felt appropriate. But spending time with Kira, and watching the way she listened to others, had made a deep impression on him. He learned that something mutually beneficial could be gained from sincere interaction. Important things could be gleaned through seemingly insignificant exchanges, things he could use in his writing, adding colour and depth to his characters. Moreover, there was something infectious and refreshing in Gorbachev’s words, and in the way he expressed himself. Politicians had not talked like that since Lenin addressed a packed audience at the Smolny Institute in the months leading up to the Revolution.
‘Perhaps we could meet sometime?’ said Gorbachev. ‘Would you be prepared to help bring about real, lasting change? Can you - ?’
A loud voice crackled from the overhead speakers.
‘Comrades, please. I have an announcement to make.’
The lights were lowered. The conversational din died out. Those gathered turned to the far end of the room, where a bearded, broad-shouldered man in a tuxedo was standing on a lectern, gesturing for quiet. On the wall directly behind him was a huge portrait of Turgenovsky.
‘Comrades,’ he said into a microphone. ‘You know why we’re here tonight - to pay our respects to one of the most outstanding Soviet citizens of his generation. We’ve all been touched by the majesty of his words and purity of his socialist vision. So please, show your appreciation for Ivan Fyodorovich Turgenovsky.’
Applause swept around the hall.
A spotlight followed Turgenovsky from one side of the room to the other. As he walked, smiling faces and words of congratulation slid in and out of focus and earshot.
He stepped up to the lectern, and stared into the wispy fog of cigarette smoke hovering in the darkness.
‘I’ll keep this brief,’ he said. ‘At my time of life, you don’t know which speech will be your last.’
‘To think that fifty years have passed since I first set out on my literary career astounds and humbles me.’ Turgenovsky put a hand to his chest. ‘On these sorts of occasions – when someone reaches a particular milestone in their life – of course people mainly like to recall the good things about them. I simply want to say to the people here, to my comrades who’ve gathered, that I am ashamed of many of the things I have done in my life, that not everything I have done is good – I know that – and that I did not always behave to the highest human principals. There are things in my life that I remember with dissatisfaction, occasions when I acted without sufficient willpower, without sufficient courage. I know that, too. And I am not saying this for the purposes, so to speak, of some sort of repentance, that is a person’s private business, but simply because, by remembering, one wants to avoid repeating the same mistakes. And I shall try not to…from now on, in advancing years and a happily married man, at whatever cost, I will not repeat the moral compromises I once made.’
His words met with silence.
An awkward few moments were endured before the lights came back on, and Turgenovsky rejoined his wife. Those who had smiled and patted his back a moment ago looked on with suspicion and disbelief.
To have stood up and spoken the truth felt good. And such a brutally honest self-appraisal could only be a good thing for their society. If Turgenovsky could admit to faults and flaws in his past conduct, then anybody could.
He took a glass of vodka from the tray of a passing waiter, and tried to take the edge off his nervous excitement.
‘That was quite some speech, Ivan Fyodorovich.’
Turgenovsky swung round.
‘Comrade Molotov! What a pleasant surprise. I heard you were recuperating at a Black Sea resort after some sort of health scare.’
Aged through years of heavy drinking and the rigours of a long political career, Molotov frowned and shook his head.
‘Why the big self-denunciation – now of all times? It’s been almost twenty-five years since Comrade Stalin’s death. Don’t you think all the horses that mattered have bolted by now?’
‘I’m a changed man,’ said Turgenovsky. ‘I look upon my message as a sacred one, and my only concern is delivering the truth in hope of cleansing the nation. We had no Nuremberg, comrade Molotov. We need to face up to our past, to bring people to account, and assess our collective guilt.’ He pointed to Kira, now talking to an elderly couple. ‘You see that young woman over there? Apart from her obvious gifts’ - he paused for a moment longer than was really necessary – ‘She is fluent in six languages. She picked up French in barely three months. She is a multi-instrumentalist. She dances. She sings. She paints. She is a spiritualist. And she has brought such joy and happiness to my life. If I’d have met her when I was younger, I would never have trodden the paths I did in my youth and middle years. Now I am reaching the end of my tenure, so to speak, I want to go out with a clear conscience. If not, I wouldn’t feel worthy of my wife’s affections.’
‘So, Turgenovsky has fallen in love! Bah! You’re a contrary man, Ivan Fyodorovich, of that there’s not the slightest doubt. Talented in many ways, I suppose, but there are some things you can never get clean, no matter how many times you scrub them.’
Turgenovsky was about to protest, but Molotov had already turned and started to walk away.
As Turgenovsky drained his vodka a middle-aged woman with short dark hair and a button nose approached him.
‘Comrade Turgenovsky, you may not remember me. I work at the Writers’ Union. I have for many years now. My name’s Zinaida. I used to be on the main reception desk.’
Even though she had lost that youthfulness and sparkle which once appealed to him, she looked more than familiar.
‘Ah, yes, how are you? It’s been some time since I’ve been in Moscow. Thank you for coming. It means a lot to me.’
‘Please, comrade Turgenovsky, can I speak with you for a moment? It’s a matter of utmost importance, a matter of life and death.’
The look in her eyes told him how desperate she was.
‘Why of course, my dear. Let’s go over there where it’s quiet.’
By a concrete pillar, Zinaida told him the story of Andrei’s arrest and imprisonment, and how cruelly and unjustly he had been treated these last few years. Correspondence had been so erratic, that even now she was not one hundred per cent sure where he was being held.
As Turgenovsky listened, he realized he was the man responsible for Andrei’s arrest.
‘That’s – that’s terrible. I remember the writer in question, and the old man who came into the office with that odd, er…manuscript.’ He paused. If he could not force himself to be truthful on this matter, he was determined to try and rectify the situation. ‘I had no idea that these kinds of indiscriminate arrests were still commonplace. You must give me all the details. Rest assured. I will do everything in my power to help.’
Zinaida almost collapsed through joy and relief, and Turgenovsky had to reach out and support her.
‘Oh, thank you,’ she said. ‘I knew you weren’t like all the rest of them. When I heard you speak tonight, I could tell. You’re such a great man, a great writer and true humanitarian. So many times I wrote letters to you. Clearly, you didn’t receive them. Oh, with you on our side, I know this nightmare is nearly over.’
Renowned philologist, Sonya Petrovna, had been sitting in the interrogation room for well over an hour. Like so many others, she could only guess at the reasons behind her arrest. Her close association with writers of Solzhenitsyn’s reputation seemed most likely. If so, if prison and the camps awaited her, she was determined to go out fighting. There was no way she would admit to things she had not done. At fifty, her hair grey at the sides, she was a strong and independent woman; someone prepared to stand up for what they believed in, having endured much sorrow and deprivation in her early life.
The door opened, and into the room walked Stolichky. Aged and stooped now, he put a file on the table, and sat in the chair opposite Petrovna.
‘I must firstly apologize for the unsettling nature of your arrest, comrade Petrovna. But it couldn’t be helped. Now, I know you’ve done a lot of research into the true authorship of a novel by a very famous Soviet writer. In recent years a few manuscript pages have come into my possession, from a book written by a man called Ronzakov, dating from around 1919.’
Sonya Petrovna’s excitement got the better of her. She found herself talking without being prompted.
‘I’ve heard that name somewhere before. When I was doing my original background research it came up in relation to some Party work in the provinces just after the Revolution. If memory serves me right, Ronzakov was a very gifted literary man, dedicated to the socialist cause. Some people I spoke to mentioned that he’d read them chapters from a book he’d been working on. Unfortunately, such a long period of time had elapsed, and many of these men were in advancing years, none could remember the details. I -’
Stolichky raised his hands.
‘Please, comrade Petrovna, let me put a proposal to you. If I were to let you have these pages, could you get some of your people to verify the manuscript’s authenticity?’
‘Only to a certain extent,’ she replied. ‘If I could smuggle them out to the West, then that would be a different matter altogether. Western scientists have developed new computerized technologies which can ascertain the exact date and origin of certain artifacts – including paper. But even this would only give us a partial conclusion. I have all the timelines sketched out at home. Nobody can prove when or where Turgenovsky started to outline his novel. If he plagiarized another’s work – as I’m sure he did – it’s literally his word against ours. There is no official record of another book having even existed, only hearsay and rumour.’
Stolichky held up the file.
‘But I have parts of that book right here! Surely these pages prove something?’
‘Sadly, no,’ said Petrovna. ‘There will always be an element of doubt. What’s to say that this Ronzakov character wasn’t the true plagiarist? That certainly makes far more sense to the average man in the street. In the course of my investigations, I’ve had literary experts look at Turgenovsky’s output – from his debut novel, his poetry, his articles in newspapers and periodicals.’
‘And what was their opinion?’
‘They said Turgenovsky was either a man of unrivalled literary genius, or he had a team of writers writing on his behalf, so different and varied are the literary devices he’s used over the years. What’s plain is that the Party had a huge influence over him from the outset of his career. But when all is said and done, we knew that was probably the case. No writer could’ve survived as long as Turgenovsky without strict adherence to the Party line.’
Stolichky looked more than disappointed. He looked forlorn.
‘And how far have you got with your book?’ he asked. ‘I’m presuming you’ve committed some of your theories and findings to paper?’
‘I have nearly 150,000 words written,’ she replied. ‘I could put a manuscript together in a matter of weeks. But the work would be wildly speculative, almost sensationally so, because I haven’t concrete proof of anything, only highly contentious circumstantial evidence.’
‘Still,’ said Stolichky, ‘if something like that appeared in the West, it would certainly cause a stir – a Nobel Prize winning author accused of plagiarism, and potentially unmasked as a phony.’
Petrovna smiled, as if finally understanding where this had all been leading.
‘Of that,’ she said, ‘there’s not the slightest doubt.’
Most books dealing with a particular historical period have the benefit of a solid timeline to guide them. To flit backward and forward, however, comparing and contrasting things that happen years apart can sometimes upset the balance of the entire book. In his mind, Turgenovsky wanted his latest novel to encompass the whole Revolutionary era, and the effect it had on all elements of Russian society. His main character was one of the few people who benefited from the massive social upheavals. But it was the stories of the minor characters that were even more important. This was something he stumbled upon by chance, and as he continued to write, became the driving force of the entire novel. Originally, he did not want to start at the beginning, writing from point A to point B. He wanted to have a fluid, non-linear structure, enabling him to give more psychological depth to his characters and their various backgrounds prior to the Revolution. He started to encounter major problems when the fictional elements of his story contradicted factual events – specific dates, births and deaths – and he would get carried away with a particular scene or chapter, only to realize that a genuine historical figure, for example, was in prison or exile, or had not been in Russia at that moment in time. This led to a build-up of revision notes, things he put to one side to reconcile once the first draft was completed. As a result, he had hundreds of pages of manuscript which he was not sure what to do with – and these sections contained some of his finest writing. He really needed an editorial team to help keep this under control, but was too stubborn and paranoid. He wanted this to be his own exclusive work, and was averse to employing any outside help - something which would give dissenting voices more ammunition to use against him. In his darkest moments he feared he had taken on too much, too late in his career, and doubted whether he had the inner strength and resolve to complete such a vast novel. But he believed this book would give him ultimate redemption, that it would stun his critics, and cement a far more legitimate legacy. This drove him on. If he could just continue to work as he had over the last few years, he was sure he could pull off.
Turgenovsky’s pen was moving steadily across a sheet of writing-paper. Thoughts raced through his head with such intensity, his slim wrist seemed to buckle under the strain. This was the all-consuming moment - the edge of a cliff before the final descent, or the sliver of light at the end of life’s darkest tunnel. How far the fall or distance left to run depends upon the courage and endurance of the artist.
There was a knock at the door - a loud, seamless, solitary knock.
Turgenovsky stopped writing. He scowled, took a deep breath, and smoothed down his hair.
Kira walked into the room. Her black dressing gown and negligee were so soft and silky they seemed to be almost falling from her shoulders.
‘Sorry to disturb you,’ she said. ‘I hope you weren’t at a critical point.’
He smiled and shook his head.
‘As a matter of fact, I’ve just come to the end of a chapter, and was due a little break.’
Kira sat on the edge of his desk, the tops of her shapely thighs revealed as her dressing gown shifted upward slightly.
Turgenovsky took hold of one of her hands.
‘What’s the matter? You look a little down in the dumps.’
‘I’m bored, that’s all,’ she replied. ‘You’re working so hard, and I don’t want to be a hindrance, it’s just that – that there are so many wonderful things to see and do in Moscow.’
‘But we’re only staying here so I can do some background research. Granted, we’ve been here for over nine months now. Still, I must make the most of my time. Look.’ He held up a few sheets of paper. ‘I’m making rapid progress. This project has been in the back of my mind for years. Only recently have I started making the strides I always hoped and dreamed I would. Just wait until I show it to those bastards at the Writers’ Union! They’ll wet themselves when they see what I’m truly capable of.’
Kira tried to mask her feelings, but soon bowed her head and started to sob.
Turgenovsky stood up and wrapped his arms around her.
‘Don’t cry,’ he said. ‘Why don’t you go to the cinema with Martha? In a few short hours, I’ll be finished here and we can go out to dinner or onto a dance, perhaps, anything you like.’
Kira lifted her head.
‘I don’t want to go out with anybody else!’ she cried. ‘I want to go out with you! I want you to show me around this wonderful city. I remember all those nights we stayed up in bed and you talked about Moscow, and all the places you promised to take me. I know I sound selfish and spoiled, but your book seems more important to you than I am. I’m coming to hate it.’
Turgenovsky stepped away from her.
‘I know, I know. But I have to make certain sacrifices. The writers’ art requires steely discipline. You must be able to endure hours of solitude to help mould your ideas into something of beauty; something that will be read and enjoyed in a hundred years time. Mankind itself cannot progress without the writers’ sacrifice.’ He reached out and stroked Kira’s wet cheek, as if trying to absorb her upset into his fingers. ‘It’s not that I’m shunning or neglecting you in any way, darling. Please believe me. But this is the book I was born to write. Denying me my sacred duty would be like denying my body the oxygen it needs to live.’
There was a long silence.
Kira let her dressing gown and negligee fall from her shoulders.
Turgenovsky looked her naked body up and down, before taking her in his arms, and laying her on the desk, on top of freshly-written pages of his prized manuscript.
Snow fell steadily. Muscovites padded over pavements or splashed through slushy puddles at the sides of the roads. Amongst the crowds, Turgenovsky walked down Nikolskaya Street. As he stopped to check his watch, someone shouted his name.
He looked over his shoulder.
By the sides of a tenement building was a crooked human shape wrapped in several layers of tatty clothing.
‘Ivan Fyodorovich?’ the man repeated, and gestured for Turgenovsky to come over.
Turgenovsky advanced but still kept his distance.
‘Who are you?’ he shouted back.
The man dressed in rags pushed himself up and away from the wall, and tottering slightly, stepped a little closer.
Turgenovsky squinted up his eyes.
The stranger moved closer still, so the building could no longer cast a shadow over his wrinkled, corpse-like face, and half-opened, toothless mouth.
‘Me…your old comrade, Lev Dalyanov.’
Light from the roaring fire flickered across Lev Dalyanov’s wasted features. With his bald, flaky head lowered, he sat in an armchair devouring a bowl of meat broth from a tray on his lap. He sucked at pieces of soaked bread with his useless gums, making repulsive squelching noises. His stomach was so empty each mouthful groaned its way through his body like water gurgling down a drain. Turgenovsky had to look away, casting his eyes over the back-room with its faux-leather furnishings and felt drapes. To think how full of life and strongly convicted Lev had once been was painful. To be reduced to nothing more than a skin and bone shell was particularly cruel. It made Turgenovsky feel guilty. It was Lev, after all, who was the true man of the people, not him.
There was a knock at the door.
A waiter came in and took the tray with the empty bowl on it. His nostrils twitched when he caught the wretched old man’s stench, exacerbated by the heat of the fire.
The waiter left the room and closed the door behind him.
Lev licked his fingers and wiped his chin.
‘That’s better,’ he said. ‘I haven’t had something warm inside of me since – since I can’t remember when. Thank you, Ivan. That was very kind of you. Many lesser men would’ve carried on walking, seeing someone like me skulking in the shadows.’
There was a long pause, neither man seeming to know what to say next.
‘Lev - what happened to you? I remember seeing you for the last time on the morning we were reprieved. Then I was taken to one cell, and you – the others, I mean – because you had families, connections, and money, were taken to another. I presumed you’d served your sentence and returned to your normal lives.’
Lev let out a throaty chuckle. It quickly turned into a rasping cough, which took him a full minute to recover from.
‘Ironic, isn’t it?’ he said. ‘There we were, little rich boys playing revolutionaries with our moneyed parents to fall back on - and you – who’d no one in the world to rely on, who was in a far worse predicament – getting off lightest in the end. You know, I often thought about you during my years in prison. In fact, I used to conduct imaginary conversations with you just before I drifted off to sleep. There were so many things I wanted to ask. I wanted to know how you got to where you were in our new society. Back then you were staunchly opposed to all things revolutionary. I remember’ - he broke off and coughed once again – ‘I – I remember some of the things you used to say; the way you teased and tormented us, questioning whether we’d read Marx or not, and what our true class convictions were. It used to be so galling. But you were right. When that great day in October finally arrived, those of genuine proletarian origins, men just like you rose to the forefront of things. It was inevitable, really. But what changed your mind? Was there some kind of major turning point in your life?’
Turgenovsky had answered this question many times before.
‘Undoubtedly our arrest and “mock” execution changed me in so many ways. It made me realize that something was gravely amiss in our society. On that transit train to Siberia I was lucky enough to run into some, er’ – Turgenovsky paused, the T-word hovering on his lips – ‘some great revolutionary thinkers. Fortunately, I managed to escape, and before I knew it I was working alongside comrade Lenin himself. Then I travelled to the provinces with the Commissariat of Education and -’
‘And your writing?’ said Lev. ‘When did you start to write that beautiful book of yours? That novel got me through many a long night in prison. It’s given me so much pleasure over the years. And to think I was the only one who thought you were capable of such wonderful things. Everyone used to laugh at me when I told them of the genius latent within you. But they didn’t know you like I did. Granted, those early articles of yours may have been a little impetuous - second-rate, perhaps - regardless, we spent a great deal of time together, and you were always so very convincing, and I truly believe that kind of unshakeable self-confidence is the first step to greatness. It put me a little in awe of you, because you were everything I wanted to be – a true proletarian, a true artist in the making.’
Lev looked to the floor, as if embarrassed.
‘And what about you?’ Turgenovsky asked for the second time. ‘What actually happened to you?’
Lev raised his head, took a deep breath, composed himself, and started to tell Turgenovsky the story of his life.
‘As you were probably aware, I was deported to Turukhansk. Over a period of months I brooded about my arrest and started to despise all things revolutionary. The freezing conditions, the desolation and bleakness of my surroundings completely reversed my convictions. I became bitter and self-reproachful. I felt stupid for having put myself in such a terrible predicament. To cut a long story short, my weakness won over in the end, and I wrote to my parents telling them that I had seen the error of my ways, and no longer harboured any antipathy towards our Father the Tsar. Don’t you see, Ivan, for vain and selfish reasons I sold myself out. I missed my warm bed and my extravagant meals, and the love and protection of my family – the things I’d previously renounced, and the very things you said I would miss most. When the Revolution was on the brink of success, I forsook it. Therefore, everything that has happened to me feels fully justified. Like some kind of religious penitent, the prisons and forced-labour camps were a form of self-flagellation. And to think, if I’d have just held firm I would’ve seen all my wildest dreams come true – the workers’ paradise.’
The fire crackled, making Lev jump, and momentarily lose the thread of his story.
Turgenovsky leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees.
‘And what happened next?’ he asked. ‘Did you return from exile?’
‘Yes,’ Lev replied. ‘My parents used their influence and had me pardoned. I had to swear allegiance to the Tsar, and enlist in the lower ranks of the army. I was sent to the front line – the front line - what a mess! What a waste! The carnage is impossible to describe, and I won’t burden you with all the details. After that I was taken prisoner, then liberated. In the Civil War I fought for the Whites, was eventually captured and arrested as a counter-revolutionary, and sent to the gulag. For the last fifty-odd years I’ve worked in prison camps from one side of the Soviet Union to the other. Even after the death of comrade Stalin, I remained in the Norilsk mining complex as a voluntary worker. There I forged some unique bonds, a sense of communality that had been lacking in my early life. I made friends. And for the first time I knew what real friendship was – working with my fellow prisoners, accomplishing something real, something I could stand back and admire at the end of the day. Look - look at these.’
Unsteadily, Lev got to his feet, unbuttoned the cardigan he wore over the top of a threadbare jacket, and showed Turgenovsky a collection of medals and decorations hanging from his breast pocket.
‘These medals are all for winners of socialist competitions.’ He pointed to each medal in turn. ‘“Winner of metallurgy”, “Winner of the Seventh Five Year Plan”…I can’t quite remember what this one was for….but these ones are for the “Veteran of the Norilsk Complex” and “Veteran of the USSR” – for valiant and dedicated labour. And this one is a jubilee medal for “Veterans of the Great Patriotic War.” Our mine produced more precious metals for the war effort than anywhere else. It’s something I’m immensely proud of. For I contributed, you see, and in a far more important way than if I had not been arrested in the first place. And that fills me with immense satisfaction. In the end, I did my revolutionary duty.’
With sadness, Turgenovsky looked at the broken old man showing off his medals, fooling himself into believing that all his suffering had been in the name of a higher, worthier cause, his face bearing not the slightest comparison to the young man he had once been.
‘And so you should be,’ said Turgenovsky. ‘Without you, the war would never have been won. You’re a true hero of our times.’
‘Thank you, Ivan. To hear those words from you means a lot to me – more than you’ll ever know.’