The writer Georgy Vladimov was recognized as a classic of the 20th century during his lifetime, and his importance has only increased over the years. But his full biography "Georgy Vladimov: the burden of chivalry" (M.: AST. Edition by Yelena Shubina; 2022) was published for the first time. It was written by the English philologist Svetlana Shnitman-McMillin. The main merit of this book lies in the liveliness with which the man whom Schnittman-McMillin calls "big, strong, bright and unusually talented" appears on its pages. At the same time, for the analysis of Vladimirov's works, the author draws on significant research, and to create his biography, he selects significant episodes and evidence.
And the first of them refers to the summer of 1941, when ten-year-old Vladimov, who was traveling with his mother from Kharkov in an evacuation train to Central Asia, saw the death of a small child and the grief of his mother.
“I suddenly felt a salty taste on my lips and realized that I was crying too. And something shifted in me, as if a turbine started working. With this howl, my writer's consciousness woke up. I began to subconsciously memorize everything and put all the details in memory.
The second influence of the same measure of significance was the campaign of young George to the writer Mikhail Zoshchenko. In 1946, Vladimov studied at the Suvorov Military School. Upon learning that his favorite writer had been declared almost an enemy of the people, he was so indignant at this that, together with his friends (among them was the girl with whom he was in love), he went to Zoshchenko's house to express his respect and disagreement with the official point of view. Understanding what this visit might threaten the Suvorovites, Zoshchenko tried to get them out as soon as possible - and he was not mistaken. Vladimov and his friends were almost expelled from the school and forced to say that they went to the writer, allegedly not yet knowing that a party decree had been issued about the harmfulness of his work. The boys succumbed to the pressure, and the beloved girl called George a rag.
“It was a moment that profoundly affected his personality,” writes the biographer. “In the contempt of the girl and the early experienced feeling of burning shame is the source of personal fearlessness, extreme uncompromisingness and a heightened sense of honor, which distinguished the writer and human rights activist Georgy Vladimov in the future”.
“It was terrible”, - Vladimov himself recalled. - But then I knew for sure that such a shame would never happen to me again in my life, even under the threat of death. And there was some kind of inner freedom.
The story of that campaign to Zoshchenko "Long way to Tipperary" was published after Vladimov's death. Svetlana Shnitman-McMillin writes: “This unfinished story testifies to the main thing in a person’s personality that is subjected to an extreme test in a terrible era of terror: about honor, which, as the future writer realized early and keenly, must be protected from youth. Vladimov took care of all his life.
In those same young years, he realized that he did not want to be a military man. He managed to get a free distribution after the Suvorov School and enter the Faculty of Law. It was a difficult time: the hunt for "suspicious", the fight against "cosmopolitans", which masked anti-Semitism, constant ideological pressure. Constant opposition to all this allowed Vladimov to understand that he had become an opponent of the Soviet system as a whole. Along with caution, he "developed some unheard-of adventurous audacity".
In 1952, his mother was arrested and sent to the camp - a teacher, a direct and honest person, she considered it beneath her dignity to hide her attitude to what was happening around. Vladimov loved his mother piercingly, they were very close, his most heartfelt letters were addressed to her from the outside to the camp, and many years later - from Germany to the USSR. “I shouldn’t have been branded as an anti-Soviet, I became one very early,” Georgy Nikolaevich once told me”, - recalls Shnitman-McMillin.
One of the most interesting episodes of the book is the story of how in 1963 Vladimov brought to the Novy Mir magazine, which was then directed by Alexander Tvardovsky, a small satirical story about a camp dog.
“You know, Zhora,” he said frankly to the author, who was already well-known and quite respectable in the Soviet way, “we can squeeze it. But you didn’t play your dog: you make police shit out of him, and the dog has its own tragedy. I personally do not like dogs, but think about your dog, feel his world.
Vladimov admitted that Tvardovsky was right. This is how the story "Faithful Ruslan" appeared, in which the writer set himself the most important task "to see hell through the eyes of a dog and consider it paradise".
“This doggie, Zhora, will run around the whole world,” Tvardovsky said about the faithful Ruslan. And he was not mistaken: when the story was published in 1975, it was immediately translated into thirteen languages. Only now the publication took place not in the USSR, but in Europe, in the Posev publishing house. Vladimov gave it to "tamizdat" after he realized that the thaw was over and the motherland now intends to "look brightly into the Brezhnev-Suslov bright future".
Schnittman-McMillin undertakes a brilliant analysis of the literary context in which “the faithful dog Ruslan, the knight of the camp system, canis sovieticus, appeared. a limited being, naturally incapable of abstraction and comprehension. And at the same time naive and alive, full of unquenchable vital fire.
“Not a single European literature, even in dog-loving England, dealt with “dog” topics with such intensity as Russian. Dogs became characters in Russian literature already in the 19th century. Gogol's gossips in Diary of a Madman, a grotesque metaphor for schizophrenia, absurd twins of a sick human soul, were the first to appear on the stage. The dog theme was taken up by Turgenev in the poignant and terrible story "Mumu". He taught a deep aversion to arbitrariness, to the cruel power of man over man. Against this backdrop of "dog" tragedies, Chekhov's affectionately humane "Kashtanka" and Bunin's philosophical "Dreams of Chang" sounded a pacifying chord. Later, this "humane" canine tradition was continued by the story of G. Troepolsky "White Bim Black Ear". And, speaking about the genealogy of "Faithful Ruslan", it should be noted that Vladimov was very fond of Jack London's novel "White Fang". With the writing of "The Heart of a Dog" by Mikhail Bulgakov, dogs got into the thick of politics.
Verny Ruslan fit into this context.
The author of the story fit less and less into Soviet reality. After he signed a letter in support of Sinyavsky and Daniel, and then left the Writers' Union, protesting against the unjust trial of them, this became quite obvious. All further human rights activities of Vladimov - his communication with Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov, the leadership of the Moscow branch of Amnesty International - led to the fact that he was expelled from the USSR to Germany and deprived of citizenship. Thus began a new stage in his life and work. Svetlana Shnitman-McMillin tells in detail what discoveries and disappointments he was full of. And about how the novel "The General and His Army" was written.
In 1965, Vladimov, then a young writer, was writing down the memoirs of General Pyotr Sevastyanov for a series of military memoirs and heard from him: “The whole history of the Great Patriotic War is a history of crimes. But someday it will be revealed, only no one will be interested in it, and we will not be in the world with you. Communication with another famous dissident general, Pyotr Grigorenko, also gave Vladimov invaluable material that formed the basis of the novel. Svetlana Shnitman-McMillin writes about this:
“From Grigorenko, Vladimov heard an amazing episode that almost cost the general (then a colonel) his freedom and life. In one of the units on the Western Front, where he served, there was a smershevets, who always walked with a short whip, with which he cut the air when he wanted to scare someone. One day, Grigorenko, exhausted after a hard battle, saw how this smershevite in a cap and a clean tunic that was famously sitting on his head, loudly scolded a soldier, exhausted, smeared with earth and blood, waving his whip, which made him shudder. The restrained Grigorenko suddenly lost his composure and, tearing the whip out of the hands of the Smershevite, broke it and yelled: “Get out of here! And so that your spirit is not here! I’ll beat you with this whip so that you won’t recognize your own mother! Asking for the soldier's name, he immediately added him to the list of those nominated for the title of Hero of the Soviet Union. Vladimov told me, broadcasting this episode: “I realized then that the psychology of Smersh was the psychology of serf lackeys who had been flogged in the stable for centuries. These were dead souls, unexpectedly summoned to life and seized upon power over living people. Hence the whips, and quite instinctively in Grigorenko - the threat of flogging.
The novel "The General and His Army", published in 1995 in the magazine "Znamya", was the result of Vladimov's many years of research into military history and a symbol of his return to Russian readers. Soon Boris Goldman, a businessman and a grateful reader of Vladimov, published his complete works in Moscow.
The main thing that becomes obvious after reading the long biography of Vladimov, full of literary excursions and human stories, is expressed by Svetlana Shnitman-McMillin in the words: “The only thing that mankind has so far been able to oppose to the apocalyptic monster of totalitarianism is personal courage and a pure, open Word. Georgy Vladimov said it."
And therefore, every word about him that allows you to understand this is precious.