Friday, October 11, 2013

Mikhail Bulgakov's Moscow

I've been woefully amiss in posting lately but I never leave off my exploration of Soviet history and so I'll at least try to post a few nuggets of Russian or Soviet wisdom in the coming weeks.  A couple of months ago, I was reading Mikhail Bulgakov's letters and diary entries, entitled Manuscripts Don't Burn. I can't say that the book was particularly illuminating but the book does give one a sense of Moscow intellectual life, and Moscow life in general, in the 1920s.  Bulgakov's genius isn't readily apparent in his diaries and letters. Clearly, he saved his best work for his plays and novels.  However, the reader does come to understand that Bulgakov was unflaggingly hard-working, dedicated to his vocation as a writer, unflappable, and prolific. By the standards of his age, he was also brave, even writing directly to Stalin (and not in inordinately craven language) asking for permission to emigrate.  Below are a few quotations from the book.

"And the country will be liberated.  For there is no such thing as a country with no heroes, and it would be criminal to think that the motherland has died."

"I wish you a happy New Year, and with all my heart I wish this new year should not resemble the old one.."

"I have begun to develop a strong suspicion that my 2,000 rubles are going to be engulfed in the ocean of the Russian Revolution."

"I saw crowds smashing the windows of trains, and saw people being beaten.  I saw ruined and burnt-out houses in Moscow...I saw hungry queues outside the shops, hunted and pitiful officers, and I saw news-sheets where in effect they write about only one thing:  about the blood that is flowing in the south, in the west and in the east...The new year is coming.  I send you a big kiss."

"Until I have my own apartment I will not be a human being, but half of one."

"This was my first appearance in the boggy cesspit of specifically Soviet journals."

"A pamphlet is not a lampoon, and the Chief Repertory Committee is not the Revolution."

"Those dreadful traits of my people, which, long before the Revolution, caused the most profound pain to my teacher M. Ye. Saltykov-Shchedrin."


"The Crimea is just as nasty a part of the world as ever."

"There is no such thing as a writer who falls silent.  If he falls silent, he was never a true writer."

"How am I to sing of my country, the USSR?"

"I am writing all this with the aim of showing you in what conditions I have had to realize my idee fixe.  And that consists in re-establishing the norm within three years--an apartment, clothes, food and books."

"But maybe we'll survive!"

"...the whole of Moscow is still naked and barefoot and is trading ephemerally."

"In Moscow they count only in hundreds of thousands or in millions."

" is impossible to go on living just with one job.."

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