Posts tagged Turgenev

A Dairy of a Soviet Schoolgirl (Part III)

Diary of a Soviet Schoolgirl, 1932-1937 by Nina Lugovskaya

p. 7 – Forward – Nina’s father “wanted them [his three daughters] to be ‘real people, cultivated, serious and intelligent.’  He did not want them to become cogs in the Soviet machine:  ‘Look at everything critically, check, don’t take anything on faith.’ He wrote.  “persevere in your aspirations and develop your will—that is the essential quality in a person.”  He told them to study hard and to learn as much as they could so as to be ready at any moment to fight for their own survival since their situation—as the daughters or an exiled father—was worse than others and set them apart from their classmates.

p. 45 May 2, 1933 – I so don’t want to study.  My God!  I want to quit everything, leave everything and live.  I want to live.  Live!  I’m not a clockwork machine that can work without pause or respite; I’m a person. I want to live! To forget myself! …Oh, really, to hell with the new society!  It’s only Gennady [a classmate] who can get wrapped up in it and spend hours reading what Lenin and Stalin said and about the achievements of our Soviet Union.

 p. 47 May 18, 1933 – And now we have the First-Year-of the Second-Five Year Plan loan [supposedly voluntary but in fact compulsory annual loans by citizens to the State], which infuriates me.  Yesterday I couldn’t bear it and tore a poster with the slogans off the door. [urging people to sign up to loan the government money.]…The government! How dare the government tell me what to do!  A bunch of scoundrels got together and are lording it over the rest of us as if we had to submit, as if we had to obey any loathsome Yid and venerate Stalin. 

…No, Russians will never win freedom or live as free people.  Ever since the Slavs asked the Varangians to rule, they have been under someone’s thumb.  And they will always be under someone’s thumb.  I have to agree with Turgenev when he says, “the Russian people need freedom least of all.”  They don’t need freedom because they can’t hold onto it.

p. 55 July 4, 1933 – Several times we (Zhenya, Olya and I) have argued about the times we’re living in, about the state of the workers, about culture and many other things along those lines.  They tried hard as they could to defend the present state of affairs, while I refuted it—even when I’d run out of arguments I was still convinced I was right.  I will never to able to agree with them, to call the system we have now socialism or to consider the current horrors normal.

p. 56 July 8, 1933 – I would call all young people today – Zhenya and Olya in particular – spineless.  Isn’t that the truth?  Can you really compare students in the old days with students now?  Is there any resemblance between crude, mostly backward people, ready to do any nasty thing if it’s at all to their advantage, and the young people of the last century; full of life, intelligent, serious (with a few exceptions) and ready at any moment to stand up for an idea?

p. 57 July 12, 1933 – How life does ruin people!  Mama wasn’t like that when she was our age.  We didn’t used to be like that either.  Of course, not.  It’s no wonder we’re petty when we have to consider every piece of bread, how can we not call each other names and get angry when an unbearable hunger is sucking and gnawing on something in our stomachs?

p. 61 Aug. 31, 1933 – Strange things are going on in Russia .  Hunger, cannibalism…People from the provinces say there isn’t time to remove the corpses from the streets, that provincial towns are full of starving, ragged peasants.  Everywhere there’s terrible thieving and banditry.  And the Ukraine?  The grain-rich, carefree Ukraine?  It’s unrecognizable now.  It’s a dead, silent steppe.  The high golden rye and feathery wheat are gone; their heavy spikes no longer sway in the wind.  The steppe is overgrown with tall weeds.  You don’t see the sprawling and merry villages with their little white cottages anymore; you don’t hear the ringing Ukrainian songs.  Here and there you see desolate, deserted villages.  The Ukraine has scattered.

Refugees are doggedly and ceaselessly converging on the big cities.  Often they are driven out again, entire long trainloads—back to certain death.  But the struggle to survive has taken over, people are dying at train stations, in trains and still they get to MoscowBut what about the Ukraine?  The Bolsheviks have anticipated that calamity, too.  The crops on those paltry plots that were sown last spring are being harvested by Red Army soldiers, sent there for the purpose.

p. 63 Sept. 28, 1933 – Homework, my God, we have so much homework. What wretches the Bolsheviks are!  They don’t think about us at all, don’t think that we’re people too.  Someone named Bubnov [Andrei Bubnov, Minister of Education, responsible for the education reforms of the 1930s] whoever the hell he is, just blurts out whatever comes into his head.  He writes articles for the papers about schools: educational standards must be raised, discipline must be improved.  But none of them understands the simplest thing; that that way our progress will only go down…This morning I thought:  I just want to grow up as fast as I can and leave this country of barbarians and savages.

 p. 69 Nov. 11, 1933

Farewell, unwashed Russia !

Land of slaves, land of lords,

And you blue uniforms,

And you submissive hordes.

Perhaps beyond Caucasian peaks

I’ll find peace from tears,

From Tsars’ all-seeing eyes,

From their all-hearing ears.

By Mikhail Lermontov.  Translation by John Mersereau, Jr.

To love your country and your countrymen…But how awful to live among barbarians, the uneducated, boorish masses, amidst the rude, uncivilized Russian people. They don’t understand anything, don’t know anything, they recognize only grub and sops, they have neither honor nor pride.  To live with this never-ending malice towards everything and everyone, beginning with the lowest classes, the benighted peasants, to despise the stupid, but ridiculously meek or else horrifyingly rebellious hordes, and do all one can to help them.  There is not one nation on earth as vast as ours, as gifted and as backward—our poor “unwashed Russia .”

 p. 97 June 20, 1934 – Yesterday Moscow welcomed back the crew of the ice-bound Chelyuskin [crushed by ice on Feb. 13, 1934 in the Chukot Sea en route from Murmansk to Vladivostok.] men who labored for several dozen long days on an ice floe, half expecting to die there.  The whole world was following them…And very many people had given up hope, but the crew returned thanks to a group of courageous pilots who, despite terrible dangerous conditions, risked setting down on the floe lost among the ice floe lost among the ice reefs.

p. 100 June 23, 1934Our [Soviet] government doesn’t like to talk about the failures, it only likes to boast and it will not remember very soon, if ever the valiant names of Vasenko, Fedoseyenko and Usyskin.

 p. 103 July 13, 1934 – At first I felt shy of the peasants, but now I listen to them with interest when they stop by, I spend my time in observing everything.  I’m trying to fix it all in my memory.  I listen eagerly to the peasants’ remarks about the way they live.  What they say makes me hate the Bolsheviks even more.

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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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