Monday, 2 November 2015

Anatoly Mariengof : A Novel Without Lies

13

By the fall we were living in the Bakhrushin house. Karp Karpovich Korotkov — a poet little known to readers, but quite popular in literary circles — let us stay at his apartment.
Karp Karpovich was the son of a rich manufacturer, but even before the revolution he had left his family home and devoted himself to the arts.
Soon he had released some thirty books, all distinguished for their unprecedented lack of sales and their Eastern accents on Russian words.
Nonetheless the books disappeared pretty quickly thanks to the inexpressible energy with which Karp Karpovich himself handed them out, along with his autograph!
One joker even promised two pounds of Ukrainian lard to any eccentric who might have a copy of Karp Karpovich's books without a dedicatory inscription.
This was no small gamble. In 1919, not only for the sake of lard, but even for yellow millet, people would feed lice with their bodies for weeks in the icy carriages.
All the same our joker had to eat his own lard himself.
Our room was big and quite nice.

14


There is no force capable of separating a Russian from his ruinous devotion to the arts — not a typhoid louse; nor ankle-deep provincial mud; nor 'loo-lessness'; nor war; nor revolution; nor an empty stomach.
You might say we have refined natures.
I was returning home late one night from a friend's. In the sky hung a cloud like a rustic washstand with a broken faucet — a cursed rain flowed freely and without respite.
The Tverskaya pavement was black and glossy — just like my top hat.
I was meaning to turn onto Kozitsky Lane. Suddenly from the opposite side of the street I hear:
'Hey, foreigner, stop!'
I tended to fluster simpletons; my top hat and wide overcoat, you see.
Five men moved away from a wall.
I waited.
'Citizen foreigner, your identity card!'
Nearby, a cabman driving a jade roan hobbled along the dilapidated roadway. He glanced in our direction — then whipped his Bucephalus. The latter, being no fool, gallopped off. A guard was dozing off by the Cafe Lyre. Before my eyes, he darted into a by-street and — cheers!
Not a living soul. Not even a stray dog. Or a dim street lamp.
I asked them:
'By what right, comrades, do you demand documents of me? Your warrant?'
'Warrant ...?'
A fellow in a student's peak-cap, with a face that was pale and rumpled — like a pillow after a night's sleep — waved a pistol in my face:
'Here's your warrent, comrade, right here!'
'So, perhaps this isn't about my papers. But my overcoat!'
'Well, hurrah for you, God bless ... You guessed it.'
The fellow with the rumpled face stood behind me, gently helping me disrobe, like the doorman at a good hotel.
I tried to joke. But it wasn't a very happy occasion.
I'd just had the overcoat made. A good cut, high quality thick woolen cloth.
Rumple-face stared at me sadly.
But just as I was slipping out of my sleeves in complete despair, that selfsame Russian love for art, a love that knows no bounds, came to my rescue.
One of the group, staring at me intently, asked:
'And what, comrade, might your name be?'
'Mariengof...'
'Anatoly Mariengof?'
Pleasantly stunned at the extent of my fame, I repeated with pride:
'Anatoly Mariengof!' 'The author of Magdalene?'
At this happy and magical moment of my life I would have given them not only my overcoat, but thrown in my pants, patent-leather boots, silk socks, and handkerchief as well.
Let it rain! Let me go back home in just my underpants! Let our budget be shot to hell! Let it, a thousand times let it!
What a succulent and rich food for my ambition, that voracious Falstaff we carry in our hearts!
Needless to say, my nocturnal acquaintances didn't touch the overcoat; the ringleader, having discovered in my person the Mariengof, was profuse in his apologies; they escorted me all the way home and in parting I warmly shook their hands and invited them to come hear my new stuff at Pegasus' Stall.
Two days later there was more confirmation of the Russians' refined nature.
Esenin dropped in on the cobbler. He needed his soles patched.
The cobbler quoted a fair price. Esenin, without haggling, left him an address for delivery:
'Bogoslovsky 3, apartment 46 — Esenin.'
The cobbler clasped his hands:
'Esenin!'
And in a fit of rapture he cut the price in half.
A page of history (true, the circumstances were somewhat different, but also noteworthy):
The year is 1917. In Gatchina General Krasnov, commanding Kerensky's forces, concludes an inglorious accord with the Bolshevik detachments.
In comes Kerensky's adjutant and Lev Trotsky. They are followed by a Cossack guard with a rifle. The Cossack catches hold of Trotsky's sleeve and won't let go.
Trotsky turns to Krasnov:
'General, order your Cossack to leave us alone.'
Krasnov pretends not to recognize Trotsky.
'And just who are you?'
'I am Trotsky.'
The Cossack stands at attention before Krasnov:
'Yer excellency, I was stationed to guard the Mister Officer here (Kerensky's adjutant), and alluva sudden this here little Jewboy comes in and says, "I am Trotsky, come with me." I'm a guard. So I follows 'em. I ain't lettin' go without the corporal 'a the guard here.'
'Ach, how stupid!' Trotsky spits out and leaves, slamming the door.
General Krasnov then turns to his officers with a phrase worthy of immortality.
'What a magnificent scene for my future novel!'
Russians, Russians!
Here we have the irreversible setting of the general's sun. The surrender of Petersburg. Russia's fate is at stake. And he, commander of the army (true, only two companies and nine hundred Cossacks, but still decisive: to be or not to be), expounds upon a scene for a novel? How do you like that?


Translated by Jose Alanis

No comments: