Posts tagged Gorky

“Till My Tale is Told” – Part V – “Demoralized Individuals”

“…an unrelenting and protracted campaign waged against unarmed, divided, and often demoralized individuals by a merciless and seemingly omnipotent regime.”

The above quote I got out of the book “Till My Tale is Told” editted by Simeon Vilensky and published by Indiana University Press in 1999.  I need to read the entire book by Vilensky of accounts written by these said “demoralized individuals.” Yet so many other victims of the Soviet regime will have stories that are left untold because it was against the law to be writing anything about the cruelties and vulgarities of the Soviet system.  There were brave heroes who did battle in their own way, using the gifts they were given to put their experiences into verse, such as the poet Anna Barkova.  See what she wrote in 1952 in Russian about her experience, thankfully it has been translated into English:


Our time has its own heroes,

Not twenty, not thirty years old.

Such could not bear this burden,


We’re the heroes, born with the century,

Walking in step with the years;

We are victims, we’re prophets and heralds,

Allies and enemies.

We cast spells with Blok the magician,

We fought the noble fight,

We treasured one blond curl as keepsake,

And slunk to brothels at night.

We struck off our chains with “the people”,

And proclaimed ourselves in their debt;

Like Gorky, we wandered with beggars;

Like Tolstoy, we wore peasant shirts.

The troops of Old Belief Cossacks

Bruised our backs with their flails,

And we gnawed at the meagre portions

Served to us in Bolshevik jails.

We shook when we saw diamond emblems

or collars of raspberry hue:

We sheltered from German bombardment

And answered our inquisitors, “No!”

We’ve seen everything, and survived it,

We were shot, beaten, tempered like steel;

The embittered sons, angry daughters,

Of a country embittered, brought low.

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Diary of a Soviet Schoolgirl (Part II)

Thanks to my Kazakhstani friend Yulia for fooling me with an April Fools joke yesterday. I was at my desk at work minding my own business at my computer when she peeked her head in at the door of my office and sternly asked, “Why aren’t you at the meeting?” Naturally, in my jetlagged state I started to panic and tried to think which committee meeting I was missing at that very moment. When she winked, I knew that I had been April Fooled. Yuliya admitted she had been pulling this same line all morning with her other teacher friends and getting a rise out of them. Obviously the climate at our university has made us all on high-level alert to not want to miss anything, especially important meetings, people are getting pink slipped left and right.

Yesterday I quoted some writing from Diary of a Soviet Schoolgirl, 1932-1937 by Nina Lugovskaya. I will just share some of the books that this young girl read. Turns out she was arrested in March 16, 1937 as an 19 year old and in the 1940s she was married to an artist in Magadan where she and her husband had been sent as punishment. She became an artist instead of a writer and had her first one-woman show in 1977, how I would LOVE to see her paintings. She died in 1993 at 75 years of age and her husband died the following year. I suppose she was cured of doing any more writing when the NKVD confiscated her diary and claimed that she was an “Enemy of the People” at age 19!!! What a waste, because she had a great mind and was a very good writer in her teens.

Nina’s diary was her confidant and was perhaps therapy for her while her economist father had been exiled early in her life. I always maintain that my best writing students are the ones who enjoy reading. The following is what Nina read which helped her descriptive writing:

Feb. 15, 1933 Lermontov’s biography

May 5, 1933 Turgenev’s “Smoke”

Dec. 14, 1934 Teleshov’s “Without a Face”

Feb. 10, 1935 “I could read Chekhov forever” Ivanov, Treplev “The Seagull”

April 27, 1935 Gorky’s “Makar Chudra”

Sept. 3, 1935 Goncharov’s 1859 novel Oblomov is hero in this book

Sept. 23, 1935 Mikhail Pokrovsky – five volume history of Russia

June 27, 1936 Lermontov’s “A Hero of Our Time”

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Animal Farm Literacy: Achievement and Pretense

When I lived and taught English in communist Red China in the late 1980s I had heard of the ironic motto “We pretend to work and they pretend to pay us.” This facetious slogan for the masses goes along with the “iron rice bowl” policy I wrote about a week ago.  I heard at a Kurbanait holiday supper last night a variation of this care-worn slogan again, “We pretend to teach while our students pretend to learn.”  I hope that more than just pretense happened in my classroom this past semester.  Some of my students achieved great things, they wrote inspiring words in English, their second or third language. I’m very proud of them. The following is what C.S. Lewis wrote about pretense:


There are two kinds of pretending.  There is a bad kind, where the pretence is there instead of the real thing; as when a man pretends he is going to help you instead of really helping you.  But there is also a good kind, where the pretence leads up to the real thing.  When you are not feeling particularly friendly but know you ought to be, the best thing you can do, very often, is to put on a friendly manner and behave as if you were a nicer person than you actually are.  And in a few minutes, as we have all noticed, you will be really feeling friendlier than you were.  Very often the only way to get a quality in reality is to start behaving as if you had it already.  Mere Christianity, Book IV, Ch. 7.


Yesterday I finished the book Animal Farm, it is a short little “fairy tale” which takes an hour or so to read.  Then I looked up what the allegory was for all of George Orwell’s farmyard characters.  The following is what is commonly known, I had guessed right on the pigs  

Napoleon = Stalin and Snowball = Trotsky. 

Squealer the pig = Molotov and the Soviet paper Pravda

Major, the boar = Marx (Lenin?)

Minimus the pig = Gorky

Farmer Jones = Russian tsar

Frederick, the neighboring farmer, owner of Pinchfield = Hitler

Mr. Pilkington, the other feuding farmer = U.S. and U.K.

Battle of the Windmill = WWII

Mr. Whymper = George Bernard Shaw (I had thought he might have represented Walter Duranty)

Hens = kulaks who destroyed their eggs like the farmers who destroyed their produce

Sheep = masses

Moses the Raven = Russian Orthodox religion

Horn and hoof green flag = hammer and sickle

Boxer, the hard working horse = the proletariat

Mollie = bourgeoisie or nobility, the Russian diaspora

Benjamin, the donkey = the author, George Orwell


Writing can be a powerful thing if the meanings of words come across successfully to your reading audience.  The pen IS mightier than the sword and I hope my Kazakh students catch the essence of writing down their thoughts as often as possible so that what is documented can be looked back on in the future.  Practice makes perfect and their writing can eventually stir others to action for the betterment of this great country of Kazakhstan. 


The story of Animal Farm showed that those animals (the pigs and dogs) who could write the Seven Commandments on the side of the barn had power over those animals who remained illiterate.  In fact, those who wrote had power to change the meaning of the laws by adding just a few words to the end of each law in order to twist the commandment to their advantage.  Our memories are also important to remember the original truths.  My students have better memories at their young age than us older folks. Institutional memory is important to have in order to counter the lies and pretense that harms rather than helps.


We, as older veteran teachers, have the experience like the donkey Benjamin, to outlive the pretense and charades that went on during the former Soviet Union.  It is an achievement that the Animal Farm in real life was demolished 18 years ago but there are still remnants of the old thinking that is residual in our institution of higher learning.  What will it take to have a REAL education to change society?  Perhaps when teachers stop pretending to teach and REALLY teach and have a classroom full of students who REALLY want to learn.  That would be an achievement in any country, not just in Kazakhstan!  I think it happened in my classroom, I am hopeful and optimistic for Kazakhstan’s future.

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