Chapter One: Nikolai Ivanovich Zubov
Every historical period produces its share of otherwise inconspicuous individuals who have the gift of preserving the past, though not by setting down their memoirs for posterity. Instead, they evoke it in conversation with their contemporaries; their recollections can be borne across decades even to the very youngest listeners and when the narrator's own life is drawing to a close. As we stay receptive to its kindly silver-haired glow, we can continue to draw on it for the past it has preserved. But the use we make of these insights is then entirely up to us.
Nikolai Ivanovich Zubov had this special talent from an early age. At the time of the revolution, he was an observant twenty-two-year-old with a retentive memory, and he managed to preserve astonishing clear recollections of the Russian world that had been irretrievably shattered in the space of a few short months. Because Nikolai Ivanovich did not see the world in political terms, those recollections did not add up to a comprehensive picture of the whole, but consisted of a myriad of brilliant fragments, any one of which N.I. could readily extract from deep within his memory, well into old age. These might concern the organization of the railroads, local geographical features, the world of bureaucrats, daily life in small-town Russia, or various other minor but fascinating aspects of our history. He would always relate the kind of thing you could not have deduced by yourself or have picked up from a book. Yet strangely enough he could say virtually nothing about the Russian Civil War, even though he had been its contemporary. At the time, he had lived far from the hub of events, he had not personally taken part in the conflict, and it was as if his mind had refused to absorb the chaos and horror of this bloody turmoil.
The life of any individual is so full of its own problems and events that it can proceed in a direction completely unrelated to the flow of historical circumstances. N. I.'s father had died while he was still a boy, and the early age at which he had been left fatherless had made an indelible impression on his personality. This was the source of his eternally youthful outlook on life, his boyish pride in being good with his hands (he always carried a penknife), and his secretive, gentle, and timid attitude toward women. He loved and respected his mother to the end, never daring to flout her wishes, even though she was full of set ideas that she was determined to impose on her son. One such notions was that he, as a delicate and overprotected young intellectual, should marry a woman "of the people" and that in order to do so he should "go to the people."(*) Thus, as soon as N.I. had graduated from medical school, she packed him off to the Novgorod region to work in a butter-producing cooperative. And indeed the young man learned enough about butter-making and the Novgorod area to last a lifetime--but his choice of a wife proved to be an utter disaster. By the time I met him, no one in N.I.'s home was willing to speak of this hysterical woman "from the people," and I know nothing about her, except that she made his life such a misery that he was forced to leave her and take his three children with him: a silent, expressionless son who grew up a stranger to him and could not become N.I.'s successor in any way, and two daughters who inherited their mother's mental instability.
In was this divorce with three variously handicapped children whom the thirty-year-old Elena Aleksandrovna nevertheless chose to marry, even though she was still grief-stricken at the death of her first husband, a man who had been twenty-five years her senior and with whom she felt she had experienced the pinnacle of earthly happiness. But now she fell under the sway of her new mother-in-law, for N.I. could never challenge his mother's will. So in the Soviet Union of the 1930s--decidedly not a time when women were content to be chained to hearth and home--E.A. successfully came to terms with this new role, adapting to life under these "neofeudal" circumstances. Then the wrath of the almighty NKVD struck, and both N.I. and his wife were cast into prison camps. (I related their story in The Gulag Archipelago, Part Three, Chapters Six, and in Cancer Ward, where they appear as the Kadmins.)
After his stint at butter production, N.I. had been able to return to medicine, and had chosen gynecology as his specialty. There was nothing accidental about this, since it brought together the delicate sensitivity of N.I.'s hands, his gentle yet persistent nature, and perhaps some aspect of his youthful indecision about all those creatures of an alien gender with whom he shared the planet. I believed that he must have made an extraordinary successful gynecologist, a joy and comfort to his patients. And indeed they retained a deep and lasting sense of gratitude toward him, while he continued to practice his profession well into old age. Unable to draw his pension until he reached seventy (the years in camp were not counted toward that goal), N.I. remained eager to respond to calls involving difficult deliveries or serious illnesses. And he was seventy-five when he finally realized a pet project of his: introducing a brief course for girls in the graduating class of the local secondary school. The course concerned those "shameful" subjects that they needed to know about but the their parents could not bring themselves to discuss openly; rather, the students would pick up what they could from each other, typically in vague and inadequate form, with disastrous results in later life. N.I. wanted to write a book on the subject, a manual for teachers.
Being a doctor made it possible for N.I. to survive for ten years in a labor camp, and it allowed him to arranged for his wife to be a nurse at the same camp. But his versatility and skill at working with his hands continually inclined toward all manner of handicrafts, wit bookbinding a long-standing favorite. Before his arrest he had owned all the equipment essential for this task--paper trimmer, vise, and so on--and in the camp he managed to have these things produced for him during a quiet spell in the workshop. Later, when living in exile, he once again contrived to produce a set. He literally craved to bind books, particularly volumes he considered worthy. This was another manifestation of his delayed boyhood, as was his great love for Latin: in camp he became friendly with a noted Latinist, Dovatur, and used his position as doctor to organize Latin lecturers for the nurses! This boyish enthusiasm also drew him to a game especially close to his heart: conspiracy. While N.I. cared little about politics and had no actual need to engage in conspiracy (though a spell in the camps has a way of setting people to thinking, and N.I. did have long discussions on Russian history with the quasi-Bolshevik M.P. Yakubovich(*)), he never tired of refining various conspirational techniques in his spare time. For example, he devised a way of using the regular mails to set up a clandestine link with a distant correspondent unversed in subterfuge. His first message would include some harmless-looking poem and an ardent request for the recipient to commit it to memory. Once he had confirmation that the message had been received, his second letter would reveal that the poem had been an acrostic. Reading the first letter of each line, his correspondent would get the words: "unglue envelope." When he did so, he would uncover a message written on the glued-down strip of this latest letter informing him about the next communication, which might come in the binding of a book, in the false bottom of a box, or--the height of art--inside a simple postcard that, when soaked in warm water, could be peeled apart. N.I. had hit upon a brilliant technique here. He would split apart an ordinary postcard while it was dry, write his message on the inner surface, then glue the two halves back together (he had experimented with many types of glue). Finally he would write a message on the outside of the card, making sure that the new text covered the lines written inside. Postcards are hardly every checked and are the easiest things to get past the censor. (But it must be said that Soviet "free" citizens shrank from such conspirational connections and generally preferred not to respond.)
The whole technique was developed by N.I. while he was in camp, but he found no obvious application for it at first. Then he got to know Alfred Stokli, a literary scholar from Moscow who was a prisoner in the same camp. Stokli told him that if he could find a way to keep it hidden, he would write a novel set in the time of Spartacus but drawing an analogy with the present (a favorite device of the daring spirits of Soviet literature) and basing the psychology of the Roman slaves on his observations of zek(*) behavior. N.I. immediately offered him a brilliant method of safekeeping: rather than hiding individual sheets of the manuscript inside a binding (which would have required an awful lot of books), N.I. suggested making the binding itself out of multiple layers of manuscript pages, glued together in such a way that they could be peeled apart without damage to the writing. The method was tested and found to work perfectly, and Stokli began to write. Whenever her had enough pages for one binding, N.I. would glue them together, keeping the newly bound volume in full view of the wardens as they did their routine searches. Later Stokli was transferred to another camp, possibly after he already abandoned his novel. N.I. not only preserved everything he had written but also managed to take it out of the camp to his place of exile. He then wrote to Moscow, where Stokli now lived as a free man, inviting him to collect his novel. secret author, my fellow conspirator, and we decided that he was missing the hints in N.I.'s letters, thinking that his precious text had been lost forever. In 1956, when I too headed for Moscow, N.I. asked me to look up Stokli and inform him of the situation directly. Alas, once rehabilitated, reinstated in his academic career, and installed in his former apartment in central Moscow, Stokli had lost all interest in his camp scribblings: all this stuff about slavery--who needs it? The whole episode reminded me of the devoted but spurned Maksim Maksimych in Lermontov's A Hero of Our Time.
N.I. arrived in Kok-Terek, his place of exile, several months before I did. He had been separated from his wife when she was sent off to the Krasnoyarsk region (not by any design of the secret police but simply due to sloppy work at the Ministry of the Interior), and it was a year before she could rejoin him. N.I.'s aged mother, who was the cause of the couple's arrest, dragged herself out there to join him, as did one of his daughters, already seriously deranged--but all that lay ahead. For the being he was alone, quite silver-hired yet as agile as a young man, wiry, small in stature, with a ready smile and clear-eyed gaze that was impossible to forget. We first met in the local hospital where I was admitted with an unidentified illness, a malady that struck me right after my release from prison camp. ("This was cancer that had been spreading undiagnosed for an entire year, and N.I. was in fact the first one to suspect what was wrong.) But N.I. was not my doctor, and we met as two fellow zeks.
At one point soon after I was discharged I recall walking with him through our settlement and stopping at a teahouse for a glass of beer. There we sat, both of us without family: he was still waiting for his wife to join him, mine had left me toward the end of my camp sentence.(*) At the time he was almost fifty-eight (in a kind of ironic accord with the article of our criminal code that had brought us here, these digits seemed to pop up everywhere!(*)) while I was going on thirty-five, yet our new friendship had something youthful about it. Perhaps it was our lack of family ties, the youthful bouyancy we both shared, and the feeling of a marvelous new beginning that overhelms the sense of a released prisoner. To some extent it was also the spring on the Kazakh steppe, with the blossoming of the fragrant camel thistle--the first spring after the death of Stalin, and Beria's last.(*)
But just N.I.'s was greater than mine, so too was his optimism. To think that he was getting ready to begin life at fifty-eight, as though the whole preceding period had counted for nothing! The past lay in ruins, but life had not yet begun!
I have always formed judgments about people at he very first encounter, the moment our eyes meet. N.I. charmed me so completely and was so successful in unsealing my tightly locked soul that I quickly resolved to confide in him--the first (and last) such confidant during my years of exile. In the evenings we used to stroll to the edge of the settlement, and there, seated on the edge of an old irrigation canal, I would recite selections from the verse and prose I had stored in my head, and would try to gauge his reaction. He was the ninth person in the course of my prison years to listen to my works, but his reaction was unique. Rather than praising or criticizing, he voiced sheer amazement that I should have been exhausting my brain by carrying this burden inside me for years.(*) But in fact I could imaging no place other than my memory where I could safely keep my works, and I had grown accustomed to the strain this placed on me, as well as to the constant need to review what I had learned. But now N.I. undertook to lighten my load! And a few days later he presented me with his first contrivance, amazing in its simplicity, so unobtrusive that it could not arouse suspicion amid the barest of furnishings, and easily transportable to boot. It was a small plywood box of the type used for mailing parcels, something that could be cheaply acquired in the cities while being quite unavailable in a place like Kok-Terek, That made it something that would be natural for an exile like me to hold on to in order to store small items; and it would not look out of place next to my sorry-looking furniture and the earthen floor of my hut. The box had a false bottom, but the plywood did not sag and only the most sensitive hands--such as those of a gynecologist--could ascertain by touch alone that the inside and the outside surfaces did not match. It turned out that two small nails had been inserted snugly rather than being hammered home; they were easily removed with the help of pliers. That released a locking crossbar and revealed the secret cavity--those dark hundred cubic centimeters of space that I had dreamed about and that, though technically within the U.S.S.R., were yet beyond the control of the Soviet regime. it was a quick task to pop in my texts, just as quick to retrieve them, and easy to ensure that the contents would not knock about there was room enough to hold a transcription of everything I had composed during my five years of captivity. (In the original edition of The Oak and the calf I mentioned "a fortuitous suggestion and some timely help" received from another person(*) and suggested that this happened after my treatment in Tashkent. This deliberate distortion was made to deflect suspicion from N.I. From the day I received his gift in May of 1953, I gradually began setting down on paper the twelve thousand lines of verse I had memorized--the lyrics, the long narrative poem, and my two plays.)
I was ecstatic. For me it was no less of a liberation than stepping out of the camp gates had been. N.I.'s eyes simply shone, and a smile parted his gray beard and whiskers: his passion for conspiracy had not been in vain; he had found a use for it at last!
To think that in a settlement with barely forty political exiles (of whom fewer than ten were Russians) a do-it-yourself underground writer would stumble upon a born do-it-yourself conspirator! It was nothing short of a miracle.
Later N.I. installed another secret hiding place in my crude working table. The storage capacity available for safekeeping kept growing, my work was now easy to get to, and one can imagine the boost this gave to my clandestine writing activities. I could stow my texts away a few minutes before heading for school, quite unconcerned about leaving everything for hours on end in my isolated hut, protected by nothing but small padlock and windows fit for a dollhouse. There was nothing there to tempt a burglar, and a sleuth from the command post would know what to look for. Despite my heavy (double) teaching load, I now managed to look at my drafts daily and to add to them on a regular basis. Sundays I would work the whole day through, provided we were not herded out to work on a collective farm, and I no longer had to spend a week of every month on review and memorization as I had to do before. It last I also had a chance to polish my texts, reappraising them with fresh eyes without being afraid that making changes would impair my ability to recall what I had memorized earlier.
N.I.'s help in the loneliest moments of my devastated life and the sympathy offered by Elena Aleksandrovna, who joined him in the fall, were a constant source of warmth and light; they served as a substitute for the rest of humanity from whom I concealed my true self. When E.A. arrived, I was waiting for permission to leave for a cancer ward, with the prospect of almost certain death there.(*) It was an austere meeting; we spoke in matter-of-fact tones about my impending death and how they would dispose of my belongings. I decided against leaving my manuscripts in their house so as not to burden them; instead I buried my camp poem and plays in a bottle on my plot of land, in a spot known only to N.I. From the Tashkent cancer clinic (and later from Torfoprodukt and Ryazan), I wrote them frequent, long, and richly detailed letters, unlike any I have ever written to anyone else in my life.
The Zubovs belonged to the better half of the zek race, to those who remember their years in prison camp to their dying days and who consider this period a supremely important lesson in life and wisdom. This made me feel as close to them as though we were related or, rather, because of our ages (N.I. was only slightly younger than my late father), as if they were my parents. For that matter, not many people could have enjoyed as interesting and cheerful a time with their natural parents as I did with the Zubovs, whether we corresponded by means of notes inserted under a dog's collar (their smart little dog dashed back and forth between our two houses), attended the local movie house together, or sat in their clay gazebo at the edge of the open steppe. There, with more frankness than one could have with parents today, I talked about the deplorable fact that marrying would jeopardize my manuscripts, and together we pondered ways of getting around this problem.
In the spring of 1954, when I was blessed with a return to health and wrote my play Republic of Labor(*) in a delirious surge of creativity, I had in mind virtually no one but the Zubovs as a potential audience, seasoned zeks and dear friends that they were. But staging a reading of the play was no simple matter. They did not live alone, and trusting N.I.'s daughter was out of the question. Furthermore, their hut was wedged in between others, while I wanted to read in a natural voice, acting out each and every role. My own hut was well placed in this regard, all the approaches being visible for a hundred meters or so. But the text was enormous, longer by half again than the version known today, and the reading would take a good five hours, counting intermissions. For the Zubovs to stay so long at my place during the day was to risk arousing the suspicion of the neighbors and of the command post. Besides, we had jobs to go to and household chores to take care of. There seemed to be no other solution than for them to come by after dark and stay the night.
It was a steamy night in late June, majestically lit by moonlight in a way possible only on the open steppe. But we had to keep the windows closed to muffle the sound, and there we sat in my miserably stuffy quarters breathing in the fumes of my kerosene lamp. We aired the place during pauses in the reading, and I would step outside to make sure no one had crept up to eavesdrop. In fact, the Zubovs' dogs were lying close by; they would have barked at any intruder. That night the life of the labor camps reappeared before us in all its vivid brutality. It was the same feeling that the world at large would experience twenty years later on reading The Gulag Archipelago. When the reading was finished, we went outside. As before, the whole steppe was suffused with boundless light, only the moon had by now moved to the far side of the sky. The settlement was fast asleep, and the predawn mist was beginning to creep in, adding to the fantastic setting. The Zubovs were deeply moved--not least, perhaps, because for the first time they seriously believed in me and shared my conviction that what was being readied in this ramshackle hut would one day have explosive consequences. And E.A.--already fifty and leaning on the arm of a husband soon to be sixty--exclaimed, "I can't get over how young we feel! It's like standing at the very summit of life!"
Life had not treated us zeks to many summits.
As soon as Nikolai Ivanovich and I had begun to earn salaries as "free" employees-salaries that were no longer on the measly scale of the camp--we were like overgrown schoolboys fulfilling a long-held dream: we each bought a camera. (We went about it systematically, first reading up on the theory of photography; soon afterward N.I. even sent the factory that had produced his camera some critical comments on its construction.) But enjoyment of our new craft did not distract us from our conspiratorial schemes; rather, it stimulated them further: how, we wondered, could photography be harnessed to serve our goals? We studied up on the technique of photoreproduction; on my trips to Tashkent for follow-up-medical treatment I procured the more esoteric chemicals; and in due course I learned to make excellent photographic copies of my texts. A half-built clay shed with walls but no roof protected me from the wind and the prying eyes of neighbors. Whenever the sky became overcast--which never lasted long in Kazakhstan--I would rush to my shed, set up the portable equipment, and for as long as the light remained steady, with no breaks in the cloud cover or sudden sprinkles, I would hurriedly photograph my tiny manuscript pages, none of them bigger than five by seven inches. But the most important and delicate task was then up to Nikolai Ivanovich. He had to remove the binding from an English-language book we happened to have; create spaces inside the front and back covers, each large enough to hold an envelope; pack the two envelopes with sections of film, four exposures to each strip; and then close up and reattach the binding in such a way that the book seemed to have come straight from the store. It was probably the most demanding binding job N. I. had never undertaken, but the result was a marvel to behold. (Our only misgiving was that the silver nitrate in the film made the bindings seem heavier than usual.) Now all that remained was to find that noble Western tourist who should be strolling somewhere in Moscow and who would accept this incriminating book thrust at him by the agitated hand of passerby. . . . But no such tourist turned up, and in later years I reworked my texts, making the earlier versions out of date. I kept the book for a long time to commemorate the astonishing workmanship of N. I., but at the time of my 1965 debacle(*) I burned it. I can still see it in my mind's eye--a collection of plays by George Bernard Shaw in English, published in the Soviet Union.
The Zubovs and I had taken for granted that we would live in Kok-Terek "in perpetuity," to use the phrase entered in our documents, but in the spring of 1956 the whole system of political exile was abolished, and I immediately made plans to leave. The Zubovs stayed on, prisoners not of the Interior Ministry now but of their domestic burdens. It was no easy matter for them to uproot themselves, given their declining strength and the illness of Nikolai Ivanovich's mother. To make matters more difficult still, N. I.'s deranged daughter, wandering defenselessly through the settlement, had become pregnant (apparently by the chairman of the village soviet) and had saddled the Zubovs with a baby Kazakh before she herself vanished forever into a mental institution. (The Kazakh heredity asserted itself in astonishing ways: the boy was brought up in a Russian family and was taken out of Kazakhstan while he was still an infant, yet without prompting and with no examples to emulate, he always preferred to sit cross-legged in the Muslim fashion.) N. I.'s other daughter committed suicide a year later by jumping out of a commuter train in a Moscow suburb. The safekeeping system N. I. had devised was so light and so easily transportable that he sent me another by ordinary post when I moved to Torfoprodukt(*) in central Russia. I now had three of these parcel boxes, and they were to serve me for many years to come; in fact, I made occasional use of them right up to my expulsion from the Soviet Union. But when I moved to Ryazan(*) to be reunited with my first wife Natalya Reshetovskaya, the availability of a typewriter made a further expansion necessary. (Reshetovskaya had then been married to another man for six years and returning to her was a false move on my part, one that would cost both of us dearly.) Typing three or four copies at a time rapidly increased the volume of material to be stored, and I had to find more hiding places. Fortunately N. I. had taught me what to look for, so that I was able to come up with some pretty decent ideas myself: installing a false ceiling in a wardrobe, for instance, or inserting manuscripts into the casing of a record player that was already so heavy that the additional weight would not be noticed.
Kok-Terek had seemed an extraordinary attractive place as long as getting a release from exile was hopelessly barred. We had actually grown to love it! But how swiftly it lost its charm once we were granted the gift of freedom and people all around us started leaving. For the Zubovs there was no way of returning to the Moscow region. ("You can't buy a ticket to the land of the past"--N. I. liked to repeat this melancholy aphorism born of his prison-camp experience.) "The Crimea, then!" his wife would urge. She had spent happy years in Simferopol as a girl, and the Crimean peninsula evoked treasured memories. While changing one's place of residence in the Soviet Union is painfully difficult even for ordinary citizens, one can imagine the problems faced by a former zek, especially one not officially rehabilitated. (The authorities could not forgive the Zubovs for having briefly given shelter to a deserter.) Zeks are simply unwanted everywhere. Still, after lengthy correspondence and endless inquiries, Dr. Zubov was finally allowed to take a position in Ak-Mechet (now renamed Chernomorskoye)--a remote settlement in the barren Crimean northwest. With great difficulty, the Zubovs made the move in 1958, but what they found bore little resemblance to the popular image of Crimea, much less to the Crimea E. A. remembered: there was empty steppe all around, just as in Kok-Terek, and the sun-scorched barren landscape actually resembled their place of exile. (I once joked that it was simple Kok-Terek "next to a sea dug out by Komsomol enthusiasts"--but I realized at once that I had hurt their feelings.) But they did have a smooth beach, the real Black Sea, and, best of all, a bench not far from their home with a view of the bay; the Zubovs would come here in the evenings arm in arm to watch the sun go down. With their astonishing ability to find joy within themselves and to count even their tiniest blessings, the Zubovs declared this to be a happy place, a spot from which they would not stir for the rest of their lives. Although E. A. was still far from old, her mobility became progressively impaired, until eventually she was unable to reach that bench of theirs and was practically confined to her bed. But they had mastered the art of living the inner life--just the two of them together beneath their tranquil roof, listening to music in the evening and exchanging letters with friends. For them, it was a world in its fullness.
Now that I had acquired a typewriter and could produce multiple copies of all my works, it made sense not to keep them all in one place. I should not have imposed on the Zubovs, but I had no one I could trust more. So in 1959 I traveled from Ryazan to leave them copies of all my plays, as well as the narrative poem I had composed in camp and The First Circle (in the ninety-six-chapter version that I then consider complete(*)). And N. I. once again set to work rigging up false bottoms and double walls in his rough kitchen furniture and hid everything away.
From Ryazan I kept up a very warm correspondence with the Zubovs, though I necessarily had to stay within the generalities appropriate to the postal censorship. When Tvardovsky(*) accepted my Ivan Denisovich, there was no one with whom I was more anxious to speak about it than the Zubovs, but no letter could capture everything I wished to say. By Easter 1962 I had typed up a revised version of The First Circle, and with a copy of this text in hand I dashed off to see the Zubovs in the Crimea. There, in surroundings so familiar to me and at a round table that resembled my own back in Kok-Terek, I told my favorite couple of the incredible developments at Novy Mir. As I talked, E. A. plucked a freshly butchered rooster for a gala dinner, and now and then she would pause in amazement with her hands full of feathers. And because the whole scene was so reminiscent of the cozy chats the three of us had had in Kok-Terek (the only difference now being the electric lighting), the full significance of the miracle was brought home to me as never before: not even in our wildest dreams had we hoped to see anything like this in print during our lifetime. But then again, could we be so sure that we would this time?
I must digress briefly here in order to include a point that does not fit elsewhere. That spring, as I prepared for whatever might befall me after the publication of Ivan Denisovich, I made three sets of microfilm containing absolutely everything I had written up to then. Using a summer vacation trip with my wife as a pretext, I set off to deposit them with friends from my prison days. One set went to my dear friend, the incomparable Nikolai Andreyevich Semyonov, the fellow prisoner with whom I had composed "Buddha's Smile" while sitting on a bunk in Moscow's Burtyrki prison. ("Buddha's Smile" eventually became a chapter in The First Circle, and Semyonov figures in the novel as Potapov.) Semyonov, who was working at a hydroelectric station in Perm, accepted the film and safeguarded it loyally until I burned it myself. The second set was supposed to go to the Kizel area, to Pavel Baranyuk, a hero of the Ekibastuz camp uprising(*) (in my plays Prisoners and Tanks Know the Truth he appears as Pavel Gai). When I went there I had no idea that I would only be able to reach Pavel by vehicles provided by the Interior Ministry and that Pavel had himself become a sort of prison-camp guard, something he had not admitted in his letters to me. This loss was as painful as a wound and has not been satisfactorily explained to this day, though it may be understandable enough, given the way they must have come down on him after the camp revolt was crushed. With a capsule of microfilm that felt like a bomb in my pocket, I roamed warily for a whole day around Kizel, one of the centers of the Gulag empire, fearful of being stopped by one of the numerous police patrols in a random check or due to a suspicious move on my part. I never did reach Pavel, and it is just as well. The third set of microfilm went to Ekaterinburg, to Yuri Vasilyevich Karbe, a high-minded, unflappable, trusted friend from my Ekibastuz camp days. Like Semyonov, he accepted the films and safeguarded them faithfully, burying them somewhere out in the forest. He died in May 1968, almost on the same day as Arnold Susi.(*) (Both had heart disease, and this was a period of heightened sunspot activity.) I can no longer recall whether Karbe eventually returned the films for me to destroy. Perhaps they are still buried somewhere in a forest in the Urals.
After the publication of Ivan Denisovich, my circle of correspondents and acquaintances expanded dramatically, as did my obligations and my ability to collect materials. There was corresponding increase in the attention paid to me by the Unsleeping Eye. As a result I had less and less time for writing detailed letters to the Zubovs, and the possibility of expressing myself fully continued to diminish. As far back as I can remember, I have been able to produce as much work as half a dozen other people, but while I remained underground, there had always been the occasional brief lull when I could get some letters written or chat with friends. Such opportunities now vanished entirely. True, in the summer of 1964 Nikolai Ivanovich came up from the Crimea to join my wife and me on the first trip we made in our car--from Moscow to Estonia. The old intimacy and rapport were reestablished. But then he disappeared again into his settlement, which had meanwhile become part of a "restricted zone" (some kind of naval base) and in effect now constituted an exile in reverse: in order to visit the Zubovs one now had to apply for a permit at the local Interior Ministry post. The Zubovs themselves grew ever less active: E. A. was largely confined to her bed, while N. I.'s progressive deafness cut him off from Western radio broadcasts. They shut themselves up in a static world, immersing themselves in the classics and noticing only the random--and usually second-rate--works of new literature that happened to reach them. Our experiences and the rhythms of our lives were beginning to diverge, while censorship considerations made writing letters almost pointless: hints were misinterpreted or failed to register at all.
On the night in October 1964 when the news of Khrushchev's ouster first broke,(*) the Zubovs burned everything they had held for me and notified me of this action by a prearranged phrase in a letter. That was our agreement: if in their opinion they were seriously threatened, they were free to destroy everything. Nor were they alone in expecting a massive to begin in a few days. At the same time and for the same reason I took the film I had left over from Kizel and sent it abroad (with V.L. Andreyev). Consequently I was not too upset at the news of the Zubovs' bonfire, since I had enough copies of my work elsewhere. The only problem was that there now remained only one copy of my play Victory Celebrations.
A year later when my papers were seized at the Teush apartment,(*) this fact took on painful significance: I had no more copies of Victory Celebrations in my possession. It is true that the Central Committee had printed a private edition for their own purposes,(*) so the text might at least have survived in that form, but the loss was nevertheless a biter one. In 1966 I met with N.I. in Simferopol (it was impossible to visit him at home) and asked whether he had really burned absolutely everything. His reply left no room for doubt. The only item that had accidentally escaped the flames was an early version of The First Circle, and the two of us burned it then and there in a Simferopol stove.
In 1969 N.I. was briefly in Moscow and visited me in Rozhdestvo,(*) but he had nothing more to add to the story and now I was altogether certain that Victory Celebrations was lost forever. But in 1970 a letter from him contained an unclear passage about an old friend of his in Moscow whom I really should look up. This was a hint I did not understand. (We were no longer on the same wavelength in the way that we had been in Kok-Terek; in those days we had grasped each other's meaning at a word and had wondered at the obtuseness of our "free" correspondents. The years apart had now brought a measure of this obtuseness into our own relationship.) I did not go to see his friend. Then in the spring of 1971, Natalya Reshetovskaya, from whom I was already separated, obtained a permit from the Interior Ministry to visit the Zubovs for a few days. I had myself sent them a letter requesting that they receive her; my hope was that their high-minded influence might have a mollifying effect. At the time I could not have imagined into whose clutches our divorce would drive my wife nor that she was on the verge of becoming (or had already become) more dangerous to me than any spy, both because she wa ready to collaborate with anyone against me and because she knew so many of my secret allies. Earlier she had taken from N.I. almost all of my letters to the Zubovs, particularly those dating from the time she had left me for another man; she needed them to fill the gaps in her memories. Now, suspecting any more than I did the direction in which Reshetovskaya was moving, N.I. entrusted her with passing the following sensitive news to me, and he spelled out an address to go wit it.
The news concerned the Zubovs' Kazakh grandson, born of N.I.'s deranged daughter in Kok-Terek and brought up by the Zubovs with great difficulty. A retarded boy of thirteen with a vicious temper, he had come on a brief visit from his school for problem children. (Placing him in this institution had been an unbelievable struggle, involving endless rounds of begging and pleading.) He had quarreled violently with the Zubovs, threatening to kill them--not for the first time--and in a fit of rage had blurted out to the woman next door that the old couple were "in his hands," that they were hiding anti-Soviet materials in their furniture, and that he had discovered it! One can only imagine the consequences for the Zubovs if the boy had had the chance to make a real denunciation. At the very least they would have been expelled from the environs of the naval base, a calamity for people of their age and state of health. But the neighbor promptly warned N.I., who after a frantic search discovered a forgotten hiding place containing Victory Celebrations, The Republic of Labor, and several short items. All the manuscripts were immediately hidden elsewhere. When the grandson discovered that they were gone, he cursed and raged. But N.I. now knew that he must save Victory Celebrations and at the same time he understood the danger of keeping it, since the boy might turn him in at any moment. But he had no way of notifying me and was unable to travel himself. So he fearlessly kept the newfound cache for several months more. The conspiracy we had launched so merrily in Kok-Terek seventeen years earlier had dragged on a little too long and was now beyond his strength.
In the summer of 1970 a young Leningrad couple, Irina and Anatoly Kuklin, arrived in Chernomorskoye with their small daughter to spend their vacation. They were friends of friends of N.I. More precisely, Irina was a graduate student of the Latinist and classical historian Dovatur whom Zubov had befriended in prison-camp. The Zubovs' cordiality and warmth attracted the new arrivals to them from the moment they met. Thus N.I. had no misgivings about entrusting my manuscripts to them, on the understanding that they would turn them over to me when they could, or destroy them if things should get out of hand. Soviet transportation rules being what they are, it was impossible for the Kuklins to disembark from the Crimea-to-Leningrad train when it passed through Moscow. Irina came to Moscow on another occasion and passed a note to me through Mstislav Rostropovich, but the message was so cryptic and so many people were then trying to see me on all sorts of frivolous grounds that I stuck to my work schedule and failed to respond.
In June 1971 my warily hostile former wife, who at that point still had some hope of winning me back (we were not yet at daggers drawn), related the whole story to me, along with the Kuklin's address in Leningrad. I tried not to let her see how much this meant to me. (Later, after my return from Leningrad, I told her, when she asked, that I had made the trip for nothing, that they had burned everything long ago.) But in fact, I was in Leningrad only two days later, where this admirably fearless young couple had for a year kept my seditious text safe in the damp clutter of their basement apartment on Saperny Lane, undaunted by the torrents of abuse relentlessly poured on my work through all the official channels. Victory Celebrations was once again in my hands!
I grew to love these young people. Though they belonged to an entirely different generation (Elena Chukovskaya and I referred to them in code as "the Infantes"), they had come into my quarter-century-old literary underground of their own accord. Theirs was an episodic role--to save a play--but who could say that their lives might not have been ruined as a result? They wished to help me further; professional historians both, they had grown sick of participating in official lies and longed for a chance to clear their lungs. But there was little opportunity to do so, and in any case they wouldn't have been able to: they soon had a second daughter, their basement apartment was as hopelessly miserable as ever, Anatoly developed health problems, they were barely coping with their own duties, and money was short. It wasn't for them to help me but for me to help them. The last I heard before deported was that Anatoly had been harassed at work, though that may not have been because of me.
But then again, perhaps it was. The special nature of my ties to N.I. was clear enough. It was made doubly so by Reshetovskaya, who in her rush to publish her memoirs about me during my lifetime (in the samizdat journal Veche in 1972) did not spare the Zubovs, stating openly that they had been my closest friends during my Kok-Terek exile, had read all the works I had composed in camp, and had kept a copy of the First Circle for me. Furthermore I had myself maintained a correspondence with the Zubovs through the regular mails and had even sent parcels to them during the last year before my expulsion. (Once N.I. directed a very amiable individual, one Andrei Dmitrievich Goliadkin, to me. He brought me a letter from N.I. and became one of the 227 witness whose accounts were used in The Gulag Archipelago. Later Goliadkin was the best man at my wedding to my second wife.(*) In this sense N.I. also participated in the ceremony, indirectly playing that paternal role that he had never been able to fulfill successfully in his own family.) Because of all their domestic problems, the Kuklins were unable to return to Chernomorskoye for two or three years, but they made the trip again in 1974, in the summer following my February expulsion.
That fall they brought back the following news, which eventually reached me in Zurich. On the very night I was arrested, in the wee hours of February 13, the Chekists descended on the Zubov home with a search warrant. Dear God, how long will we have to suffer these fiends? I don't know the details, but it is all too easy to imagine the knock on the door, the anxiety gripping the heart of former prisoners, the helplessness of old age, the dressing gowns hastily draped over frail shoulders. N.I. was almost stone deaf by now and for forty, fifty, sixty years had witnessed over and over again the same Chekists, the same ransacked homes. There were questions about Solzhenitsyn. What do you have of his works? They rummaged through the place, confiscating letters (including the few from Kok-Terek that had not been turned over to Reshetovskaya because they were the most intimate ones) and probably other messages from me that I had sent by private means, perhaps even my note of thanks for Victory Celebrations. (But no, they were more likely to have burned all notes of that kind....)
As the proverb has it: a rope my have loops and twists aplenty, but it does have an end.
What could I have done to defend them? How could I have saved them? By appealing to public opinion in the West? But was it not already overburdened by all the grief beyond its own shores?
Perhaps the Chekists had heard of the double walls? They would then have scrutinized every piece of furniture, every floorboard. That day they searched for the "principal hiding place" of my manuscripts in a number of other locations besides the Zubov home, mostly in the remote provinces--for some reason they had concluded that I kept everything hidden there. Their mistake! The main depository of my papers was by now a safe in Zurich. They left empty-handed, having accomplished little beyond making the poor Zubovs miserable.
But perhaps this was the last major disruption that the Zubovs had to endure. N.I.'s obdurate mother had died some years earlier, the two daughters had gone to an early grave, the son was alive but not present. E. A.'s only sister had moved away from the Crimea. Always so warm toward the younger generation, the Zubovs were effectively left without direct descendants. Every springs N.I. probably continues to give his brief course to the girls in the graduating class, hoping that their lives will not be ruined by ignorance. At times he is still summoned to help with deliveries in the maternity ward. The rest of the time he goes about his household chores and takes care of his wife, who can now scarcely ever leave her bed.
They did have a life. True, much of it had passed in prison, labor camp, and exile, but it was a life. And not it was coming to an end. I sit down to write these pages and in my mind's eye all my loyal companions in arms, my collaborators, my helpers, almost all of them still alive and still in danger, gather around me like affectionate shadows. I see their eyes and listen intently to their voices--more intently than I ever in the hear of battle.
Unknown to the world, they risked everything without receiving in recompense the public admiration that can mitigate even death. And for many of them the publication of these pages will come too late.
The irony of it! Here I am safe and sound, while they continue to live with an ax suspended over their heads.
I do not have a presentment, a certainty, that I shall one day return to Russia. But how many of them shall I still be able to see when I arrive?
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