There are certain things that only two people can know. Sooner or later one of them passes away and the other one being unable to keep the memory within himself repeats it to himself and in the end tells the whole world what really happened. One analyzes the events, tries to sort out the relationship after it is over, reckons what would have happened had things taken a different turn. One should have changed very few things: should not have gone there and have said "yes" instead of "no".
Ekaterina Moskovskaya wrote the "Story Of My Life With Alex Paustovsky".
Who might possibly find it interesting? The novel depicts neither present - day "stars" nor something rather scandalous. Even the plot is virtually missing. It is simply life. Simply the recollections of a person who died long ago. He is no longer here but his memory continues to bite and haunt. Why does the heart hurt so bad when you read this text? Why is it hard to tear oneself away from it, why are you seized by this memory that has turned to words?..
It all started in a simple way. They were both children of prominent parents. She was a daughter of a celebrity: Mr. Moskovsky - editor of the hardline Soviet Russia newspaper. He was a son of Konstantin G. Paustovsky, one of the most touching and delicate lyrics in Russian prose. And it turned out that these two kids had an affair! No, actually, back then in their youth it was called love. Almost like Romeo and Juliette, weren't they? The plot is well-known. And as to other details, like a different time and set of people - these are just particulars.
How did it end?
Nothing is over yet. Recalling the words Eloise said to Abelar: "To say I love you is to say you'll never die".
The reverse is also true: your memory won't die means I won't die either.
Life and death, their eternal opposition, their existence inconceivable each other, absurdity of life and unfairness of death. They concern everyone but here in the novel they relate to the main characters - him and her.
"You know, I actually want to change my last name and take my mother's, I've been thinking about it for quite a while. After all, I am not really me, I am a son of Paustovsky and everyone, as soon as I turn up somewhere, waits solemnly for me to start speaking verses or to rediscover Newton's law and when I just say "Hallo" and do nothing extraordinary everyone is disappointed. To save, so to speak, my face I have to "take off the muzzle" and entertain people with oral stories all evening. You see, I am very tired of ... not living up to people's expectations as if I were cheating on them."
Yes, you were a wonderful story-teller! Liar, Munchhausen, a wise cheery fellow, sad, deep down inside.
Still, he never changed his last name.
Everyone has bis or her own Alex Paustovsky. That is, perhaps, the reason why he becomes a symbolic person and assumes one of the main roles in the novel. However, as the author talks about him, she tells a sad story of her life. "My life with Alex Paustovsky", "my life with others...", "My life..." - one follows the other like a narrow ray of light that gradually expands, capturing more and more space.
"My poor husbands! They always travel with me in my past". It is so painful to live with one, think of the other and lament the third. And, just like the skyline, happiness is beyond reach and peace is unachievable.
Every encounter, every act seems only a prelude to life. But before you know it - this one and only life has passed. Only with time you come to understand that it could have been more full and interesting, you could have done more good things and, finally, avoided the truly tragic mistakes. How is one supposed to live now?
The heroine of the novel is haunted by eternal issues. While contemplating, she tries to regain freedom, leave behind the problems and depressing products of human existence.
Katya Moskovskaya really is a gifted person. A woman with many talents and husbands. Putting it simple - a woman with many lives. The sweetness of sins throws her into new romance and affairs. Which of her lives was with her destiny? That is the main question the heroine of the novel is trying to explore.
Naturalness of changing jobs and lovers could seem like simple dissipation and flippancy, however, there is a nice little computer planted inside Katya, which registers movement of souls and flow of time and indicates a complex and morbid attitude towards herself. It registers a whole range of - from elevated admiration of herself and her rare virtues to sober with her own moral imperfection and aversion to herself in this world. i, lacking deep knowledge, spoilt, nervous, lonely, sensual, too child-like for my age and a woman in bed who neither realizes the power of her attraction as a female nor understands herself. A woman showing little interest in those around her. I have always waited for someone, rushed ahead comforting myself with self-delusions all the time... My life has always lacked reality. Perhaps, hence the growing feeling of oneness."
Her life did have reality in it. Otherwise, why do her dear ones, her home streets appear so real and vivid? Why do we get that scary impression from her descriptions of heavy waves that wash the African coast and why do we feel the snowflakes of that distant time? Still, the answers she finds are no less painful than the questions.
Present-past. Dead-alive. Memory-oblivion. Heat-frost. Heaven-hell. These and many other contrasts shape the novel. Not even the contrasts - the irreconcilability, discrepancy and eternal straggle.
The same way genres are fighting in this novel: love story? Memoirs? One could call it memoirs - but the term is too blunt. "Story of My Life With Alex Paustovsky" - is a memoir, but not so much the memories of mind as the reminiscences of heart, body and soul. Alex Paustovsky has played a great role in shaping the destiny of Ekaterina Moskovskaya - he sparked the interest in life and poetry, taught her to distinguish between seeds and weeds and urged her to write.
Many of Katya's lives consist of love and sin, fear and repentance. And work. She can work and loves doing it. Her work requires complete self-devotion, talent and time. And time, as it has, perhaps, been already proven, works against us. "We were too consumed in the present to be interested in the past. But how soon this present turns to past!
As a rule, memoirs represent a book on oneself and one's time.
Yet, sometimes the writer of memoirs forgets about his contemporaries elementary decrees of life and indulges in straightforward lies or, putting it literary, unrestrained imagination. At times the memoirs look like a shameless self-advertisement. At times the author shows not what really happened, not what he really was but rather what he wanted himself to be. Veracity of the memoirs depends not only on the talent but also on the degree of frankness and sincerity, on the task the main character of the memoirs sets for himself. Volumes of memoir literature entitled "My 211st Century" are being published today. This series is dominated by the generation of the 1960s - talented, with fighting spirit and huge ambitions, immodest from the very start, rich in bright personalities, with special merits and the same kind of vivid demerits. Sometimes, a "preview trailer" written not for the sake of capturing the moment or paying tribute to the time and its contemporaries but in order to gain another spotlight and remind about oneself, sparks an urge to stop the author: "Wait, wait a second, we are still alive, we were there, that's not how it happened". And then there is a strong wish to label such memoir writers as "burned by fame".
Very often memoir literature evolves into "kitchen talk" - a blunt attempt to pay someone back. Such kitchen talk is megascopic with regards to the author's wish to assign everyone their place in history by assuming the role of God.
Others - and they are few and far between - manage to reflect not only and not so much on themselves but on the time and people who shaped it, on accidental encounters that have drastically influenced their destinies, on unique personalities who tried to change and perfect their times.
"My inner world seemed to be incomparably more important than the one : was around us" - writes Ekaterina Moskovskay. This was, probably, true. However bringing together pieces of her fate the young writer consciously or not managed to tell a great deal about that world which was "around us".
And around was Moscow of the late 60-s early 70-s. Around were "Maneje", dachas of the state officials, "Blue Bird Cafe" which due to its unique charm brought together young artists and dissidents. There probably was something magical about this cafe for many talented people found their world there - some very close like Alex Paustovsky, who is no longer with us, some from a distance like Konstantin Georgievich Paustovsky. You see them like through a reversed spy-glass: Iracli Adronnikov and Victor Shklovsky, Konstantin Simonov and Boris Batler, Natalia Petrovna Konchalovskaya, Mikhalkov Sr. and artist Laktionov - all alive, strong and rich in their families. It is so sad that now we know everything: what happened to each of them and which place life has assigned for them.
Time was around. Very specific, grim and pitiless. Time, which molded people who found their niches in modern time and, in turn, moulded those who followed them.
There are many remarkable people in various lives of the heroine. Many of them are quite familiar to us, though there are some that we have only heard of. E. Moskovskaya, i.e. her heroine, lives with the face turned towards the past, learns from her own experience cruel lessons of this world. Her fate amazingly reconciles her father, Central Committee apparatchik, and dissident children borrowing prohibited literature for a night; K.Paustovsky afflicted by illness and almost not of this world with his transparent elegant prose and favored by the Soviet authorities the Mikhalkovs and Laktionovs.
There are heroes and villains in everybody's life and probably the only way to sort this out is to narrate, to convey the anguish of the soul to paper, to relieve yourself from this unbearable load, to commit the dust to the wind, to disperse it through the souls of other people. Maybe, this will help.
This world of hers, woven with recollections and repentance, with inability to forget, with the burning desire to prolong life of those, who are no longer around, captivates. And they can be resurrected only if you remind them for, probably, somebody's heart beats poignantly when they hear names - "I do it for those about whom there is none but me to tell, none because they did not create anything of value and they do not have biographers". However, there are few people who did not create anything of value. There are no people who with their lives did not influence others. Everyone is interconnected, everything is interconnected: winter Moscow with bluish dusty and exhausting Africa resembling yellow leaf of fall. Life and images of the ancestors, chain of generations, all those themes are addressed by the author. Transfiguration of feeling into word, rewriting destiny anew, confession-like tone of the narrative - all those complex elements can be found in the "Story of My Life with Alex Paustovsky" and urge the reader to book in a single breath.
Looking at her past, reflecting upon it, regretting it the heroine "Why do I live without a son, without a husband and without myself; though physically I am always with them, my mind is either in the pain of the past or in the fear of the future?"
Questions again, again a search for the truth of life, a new attempt to define destiny. There are few people who could be content with their current existence and who would not question with pain their past and future. Harmony belongs to the realm of the ideal world.
Sincerity of the suffering is more than convincing and it is to guess where phenomenally precise memory of the author will lead. Life without harmony, conflict between common morals and religion, funny "marriage" between almost fanatical religious zeal and licentiousness: selfless passion in bed and frantic repentance in a prayer, true longing for a righteous life and hence irredeemable mistakes and inability to untangle this magic bundle. "Darkness of false truths" is being sold today for a high price and the conflict of those truths with an attempt to free oneself from guilt is very interesting. As though all the misery and suffering would become less hurting than beach stones - the past expressed in words would be more tolerable, like a stone polished by a sea.
It took an arduous journey for E. Moskovskaya to find answers: the supreme value in this life is life itself, love, nature, connection with ancestors, remembrance of those who are gone.
Coexistence with the dead - is it not a true goal of every memoir? To tell not only about yourself, not only about those who you loved, about those are gone, but to shape in words the pain which still haunts your memory; to give all of them who once were with you one more life - this time on paper; to narrate about the people in whom you have left particles of your soul, to resurrect, at least in thought, those moments when they were around, a sound of a name, a shadow of being.
"Everyone leaves behind a long life of their own, which is gone but still lives inside us". Narrative by E. Moskovskaya lends credence to a famous maxim by Nitzshe: "The force, which destroys you, makes you stronger".
"Artistic theorizing is foreign
Such statement made by an artist, especially when chosen as an h, could seem like an attempt (somewhat uncomfortable for the critics) to assert the existence of opposing views of those who make art and those who analyze it... However, in the interpretation of E. Moskovskaya these words represent her wish to protect her personal poetic inner world from simple lack of understanding or a cold, though sophisticated, scrutiny.
What is this world? Does it really need such protection and, if it does, then what is the extent and form of the protection she seeks? These are the issues that shaped this article.
The extent of the artist's Knowledge (using the terminology of E.Moskovskaya), the materialized artistic product of this Knowledge and the interrelation between the two is best revealed during the tour of the studio... E. Moskovskaya's studio is the living-room of her apartment. The walls feature an espalier exhibition of the paintings - landscapes and still life - a large part of the artist's works. An empty canvas on the easel, two unfinished paintings and a few stretchers by the wall in the comer (typical items to be found in an artist's studio) do not dominate the room, they are just a decorative background. All the rest - from the carpeting, that would look surprising in a conventional studio, to armchairs, a small trolley and a standard lamp depict just the everyday life (though normally the items, the colors and the space of the studio tend to blend with the works of an artist). Why everyday life? We are talking about art here, aren't we ? The truth is: the striking dissonance of the expected and the actually seen and, most importantly, the very nature of small canvases of E.Moskovskaya have created a strange notion of the role that fine arts play in the life, work and mentality of a young artist.
Later this notion grows even stronger. For E.Moskovskaya painting itself is not so much "a cause of her life" (apparently, this is the phrase the critics use -sometimes properly and sometimes not - when they label the artists as "fanatically devoted" and, therefore, prominent in art), but simply one of the opportunities, forms of expression, and for her it exists alongside others. The others include writing (by the way, E.Moskovskaya is a journalist by education) and research of the Russian poetry of the Soviet times... An open, emotional and, obviously, spiritually consuming way of communicating with people could equally be termed as a specific type of artistic work. It is easy to object and say: think back to the 19th - century culture - poems in albums, water-paint portraits, musical performances, letters and conversations endowed with special meaning... And those who were capable of it were still just dilettanti... Such an objection is possible, even dangerous with regards to E.Moskovskaya's art, because it may, probably, have some truth in it. However, the crucial thing here is the extent of the imagery. Painting is the art where E.Moskovskaya is fully materialized as a professional.
Another viable conclusion to be drawn from the above-mentioned reasoning is the opinion with regards to distinctive features of the painter's work and originality of her figurative perception.
E.Moskovskaya's paintings are "self-depicting". Although she has no as such, all of her landscapes designed and painted from impressions (whether in Moscow or Prague), all of her still-life canvases derived from concrete events, experiences and emotions - form something that has personal significance. They assume general significance when depicted as part of new reality - artistic reality of the painting. Associative links (they appear distinct in the names of her works - "First Love", "My Childhood", "Patriarchal Ponds", "Brainin's Backyard"...) are delicate and diverse. To understand the artist one needs to "penetrate" the artistic aura of the painting and to have the ability to look beyond the depicted images, to feel the time in the canvas other than the time of the contemporary observer. It is natural that as Katya (she is still Katya not Ekaterina when she stands in front of her works) speaks of her life and shows her paintings she "supplements" the visible images with comments: "And there you would see... around that place... And nearby there would be... And then comes..."
The poetry and prose of Marina Tsvetayeva and Boris Pasternak, the music of Vivaldi and Chopin, the novels, poems and songs of Bulat Okudzhava - are not simply the cultural background of her life, something that seems natural today, they are, in essence, part of her artistic mentality. Hence the willingness to express with artistic means things that cannot be confined to words, and the talented avoidance of blunt symbols and plastic pretension. E.Moskovaskaya's compositions derive from simplicity and harmony, formal aspects are completely subjected to the main idea behind the work.
It would be a dull and fruitless exercise to describe these compositions since their content is somewhat different, it exceeds the sum of all the elements depicted on the canvas. Recollections of joy are not the joy itself. For Katya the process of picturing is, as already mentioned, a subordinate process and since it is related to reflections of her life it is also a reflection-type process. This is the way to "determine" sorrow and grief of her works, to understand the strife for harmony and beauty that is sparked by the painter's insight into who she was in the recent and distant past. After all, Katya Moskovskaya's paintings are fairy and true stories about herself and, naturally, they have to be beautiful...
There is also a special inherent feature to be found in her works, the one that is blended from such differing qualities as emotional tension and the wish to see the work completed soon, the strife for integrity of the image and the unexpected (sometimes unfounded) use of color contrasts... Sometimes this quality is downgraded to the notion of "female art" endowing it with a pejorative connotation based on such notions of the purpose and source of this art as "prettiness" and "sentimentality"... Sentimentality can, in fact, be traced in some of E.Moskovskaya's works, but it is not the sweet tearfulness of salon art where the picture is just the pretext for "feelings", but rather grief or joy of recollections or knowledge of oneself. Another strength of E.Moskovskaya in the opinion of a critic is internal integrity of her paintings that determines both "soft" originality of her paintings in general and explicit success of such works as "First Love", "Abandoned House", "16.00", "Through the Window", "Portrait of the House"...
It is easy for an art critic to work with the paintings of Ekaterina Moskovskaya. The obvious in her art is easily shaped into a pattern... ...An explicitly "clear" genre-related structure... ...Saturated presence of associative content... ...Her city landscapes - be it old Moscow or old Prague - promise (justifiably) abundance of literary material... boasts enhanced technique of painting on glass - and E.Moskovskaya painting on glass... We can also assert the connection between her art and traditional Russian and Soviet landscape painting... ...One could easily draw analogies with certain trends in the art of young Moscow painters...
There is plenty of other analytical material for art literature to be in the paintings of Katya Moskovskaya. Perhaps, this will be done by others.
We, on our part, wanted to try to understand how this soft, integral and original art is born, which motives and circumstances it is shaped by. We tried to capture its general emotional drive. And once you have begun to understand it, you realize that the artist does have something to protect from the superficial, quick and cold glance. But something else is also evident - the best protection turns out to be E.Moskovskaya's art itself, the one that opens d of poetry to an attentive and caring viewer.
I would like to respond to your request of an expert the evaluation of Ekaterina Moskovskaya's book "My Years of life with Alesha Paustovsky". I am responding in my capacity as a specialist in Russian Language, Literature, and Culture, a professor of Russian with 15 years of experience, an author of two books (one on Dostoevsky, in English, and another, on Andrei Platonov, in Russian) and numerous articles on 19th and 20th Century Russian Literature, including fifteen articles on contemporary Russian Women Writers for The Dictionary of Russian Women Writers, (1994, Greenwood Press, Connecticut). With all of that experience and expertise, I did not expect to be too impressed by the quality for Ekaterina Moskovskaya's book. But to my great and immensely pleasant surprise, I was (Incidentally, I have found myself in the good company of such famous artists as Andrei Makarevich - whose name alone is a buzzword for Moscow intellectuals - who wrote a very enthusiastic jacket annotation to the book.
What I find truly fascinating about this book is in some sense similar to the vision present in her great Moscow paintings: with two or three details, she manages to capture the spirit of the era (1960s and '70s in Moscow), the controversy of her own lyrical heroine - both an insider and an outside evaluator of Soviet history, culture, society, with their genuine beauty, as well as many of their temptations and deceits. Throughout the canvas of the autobiographical heroine, this book traces various lives and fates in their intersections, which at times seem to be random at other times reveal the hand of fate. The intensity of this lyrical prism for history is comparable perhaps only to that of Boris Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago - a subtext present and activated throughout the book, alongside the important symbolic presence of Pasternak's figure itself. Besides Pasternak, figures of a similar calibre come to life in the book - such as the writer Konstantin Paustovsky, the critic Victor Shklovsky, the leader of the three Patriarchs of Russian Formalism, and the famous virtuoso violinist Vladimir Spivakov. I personally was most taken with Moskovskaya's pages on Adelina Adalis, a woman of extreme originality and herself a receptacle of Russia's cultural memory - who, as our heroine discovers in the course of the story told to us, turns out to be her blood relative, her grandmother!
Beyond interest for anyone who remembers those times in Russia and wants to convey their ineffable flavor to those who do not belong to that culture or generation, the book speaks to the hearts of these latter people immediately: like the best of Russian novelistic prose, it manages to capture universal cataclysms and historical turns in a series of very private and at times intensely intimate episodes. Even those who find these intimate details totally unfamiliar will recognize their tone as a very inviting, at times heartbreaking, introduction to the Russian history and culture of those years.
As an expert in Russia literature and someone keenly interested in teaching the reflections in fiction of the period of Soviet Empire's decay to American Students, I find this book infinitely valuable.