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Dressed For a Dance In The Snow


After a year of the constant persecution that followed the Nobel Prize and the publication of Doctor Zhivago abroad, all made worse by his fears for Olga, Pasternak’s health deteriorated dramatically. He had lung cancer. At first, he kept up his custom of going to see Olga every day even though she advised him to stay home when it was cold. Then he stopped visiting her, but he wrote affectionate letters instead. Later on, he stopped writing, and his family confirmed that he was so weak he couldn’t even sit up.


“On May 30, 1960, Pasternak died at the age of seventy,” says Irina, and continues:


“On June 2, before attending the funeral which, as Pasternak wished, was to be held at the Peredelkino cemetery, hundreds of readers, artists, and intellectuals showed up at his house to pay their tributes. They brought bunches of flowers for his coffin. Maria Yudina and Sviatoslav Richter played the piano in the next room. Yudina played Mozart; Richter, Chopin. Then, to show it was time to set off for the cemetery, Richter played Chopin’s Funeral March. Thousands of people congregated in the cemetery. After the official address, which referred to Pasternak as a brilliant translator and made no reference to Doctor Zhivago, a young man who was not on the program stood up. He described Doctor Zhivago as the greatest novel of the post-revolutionary era and decried the fact that in the writer’s own country the publication of that literary treasure had never been authorized.


“My mother, who had not seen Pasternak for a long time, had gone to his house to say goodbye. She made an effort to be brave, but in the end, she broke down and started weeping. During almost the entire service, she stayed with Georges and me, sitting in the garden at the Pasternak house, unable to stand up or to talk to anyone. At the last, Georges and I helped her go to the cemetery. She wanted to keep her suffering to herself, but when she saw Boris in the coffin beside the open tomb, she burst into tears.


“At the same time, she realized she would find herself in an even weaker position in relation to Soviet power than she had been during his life. She felt uneasy and anguished, not just over the loss of the man who had filled her life for fifteen years but over the loss of his protection. Now she would be at the mercy of the KGB.


“She thought about Doctor Zhivago, the novel that spoke about the two of them and that was so compelling that my mother had always seen their lives as predestined by the logic of the plot. She could picture the novel’s end: Yuri Zhivago abandoning Lara and her daughter Katia like a coward, leaving Lara, who is pregnant with his child, in the hands of Victor Komarovsky, a man who once seduced her and whom she despises; Zhivago’s conviction that such an action is necessary for the good of Lara and Katia, turning his head away from his lover’s pregnancy. Just like Pasternak, my mother thought, who had not known what to do with her and her daughter. Like his character, he let things take their course, without resisting, without making decisions.


“And with a shiver, she remembered the last words of the novel, just before the epilogue, the words that spoke of Lara, Larisa, her alter ego: ‘Larissa Fyodorovna left home and did not return. Apparently, they arrested her in the street. She died or disappeared who knows where, forgotten under a number without a name on a list that was lost, in one of those miserable concentration camps in the north for common criminals or for women.’


“My mother had a presentiment about her future, and a chill ran down her spine.


“Among the thousands of people who attended the funeral, she was one of the last to take her leave of the body before they covered the coffin and buried it under the ground. She turned her face, bathed in tears, toward the wind that was much more noticeable in the elevated cemetery than under the gilded cupolas of the little white church in the village. Faintly she heard some young voices reciting the poem that, years ago, he had composed for her.


I’m no more, but you’re still alive,
And the wind, complaining, weeping,
Sways the forest and the dacha….
{16} Page 260
The day after the funeral, KGB agents came to the apartment on Potapovsky Street, where Olga was living with us, her son and daughter. They took practically everything: the manuscripts, including the second part of Doctor Zhivago, which Pasternak had given Olga, and The Blind Beauty, the play that was his last work, a manuscript he had also given to my mother, as well as the letters they had written to each other and even some of our furniture. Olga tried to seize the manuscript from their hands, but the secret police threatened her coldly: ‘Next time we’ll set up an appointment for you at the institution, where the conversations tend to be much more traumatic than in a private apartment.’


“From that day on, every time my mother traveled to Peredelkino, she was awaited by a forest of trees that moved. The bushes followed her when she returned to her home and they crept along behind her when she went back to the train station. It was like the forest in Macbeth, but this time hiding KGB agents.”


By Monika Zgustova
Excerpts from 256-259 from the English edition