An extraordinary account by a Russian writer, recounting how she and her sister, surviving as near beggars due to the political exile imposed on their parents in the Soviet Union, managed to think about poetry even while starved of food and kindness. Their living conditions, for many years literally underground, meant her sister contracted tuberculosis, but even when dying, she insisted on initiating her little sister into the poetry of Pushkin.
When the coughing subsided, Vladya would call me over: “Repeat after me … This is Pushkin.” I would recite: “The frost and sun, a gorgeous day! You’re dreaming still, beautiful friend!” I tried to picture winter. How it had been for Pushkin.
Astonishing and spirited resilience on the part of both girls, despite being treated themselves as exiles. What an inhuman system that was!
See also Maria’s untrammelled delight in the arrival of summer.
Source: interview with Maria Voiteshonok, in Svetlana Alexievich, Secondhand Time: The last of the Soviets, trans. by Bela Shayevich (New York: Random House, 2017), p. 227
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