Extract … my novel ‘For the Love of a Poet’ …

  I am posting the beginning – some 30 pages – of a novel I’ve written and for which I am seeking publication. The title is FOR THE LOVE OF A POET. It is a love story, and it is based on the passionate adulterous affair of Nobel Prize in Literature laureate Boris Pasternak and […]


I am posting the beginning – some 30 pages – of a novel I’ve written and for which I am seeking publication.

The title is FOR THE LOVE OF A POET.

It is a love story, and it is based on the passionate adulterous affair of Nobel Prize in Literature laureate Boris Pasternak and the Moscow journalist Olga Ivinskaya, the woman on whom Pasternak had modelled Lara of his epic Dr Zhivago.

In my novel Boris Pasternak becomes Boris Beretzkoy, Olga Ivinskaya becomes Tanya Brodovskaya and the village south of Moscow where they live – Peredelkino – becomes Zernoye Selo.


In telling this tender, tragic story of love, I am also telling the story of life under Stalin, of the millions who died of hunger because of his policies or at the hands of his secret police.

Boris Pasternak and Olga Ivinskaya

I hope you will like what you read.

If you do and you are a publisher or you know a publisher, we could speak further about it. You can email me here on my site.

The novel is also available in French under the title ‘Pour l’Amour d’un Poète’. No, I did not translate it myself: a professional translation did so.


… to think you can change your life by changing

its outward conditions is just like thinking, as I did as a boy, that by

sitting on a stick and taking hold of it at both ends

I could lift myself up …


Tolstoy, January 15, 1891


April 2000 : Moscow (Gerald Lombard/Biographer)


     On Wednesdays she went to Moscow. That was where I found her. She was walking around Red Square. She went to Moscow to speak to strangers, gravitating towards those she heard speaking English or French. She was fluent in both.

It was easier to speak to strangers than to people she knew: her neighbours, the woman in the bakery, her doctor, the old man who walked past her dacha each morning. He told her one day he was taking his dog for a walk but she never saw a dog.

The strangers always listened to what she had to say. She said she thought they listened because they pitied her. Perhaps they thought she was a beggar. Even on the hottest days she wore a grey gabardine coat and fur-lined boots. Half of the heel of one of the boots was walked away. Age, woman’s greatest enemy, had robbed her of the beauty which once was hers.

“Perhaps the strangers listen to me because they like the sound of the name Zernoye Selo,” she told me.

Zernoye Selo: Village of Corn.

It was there, one hundred and fifty kilometres from Moscow where she once lived.

On the official Soviet map, a small black dot indicated the village named for the corn-growing kolkhoz[1] on its periphery. Such a map hung in my bedroom when I was a young lad with Communist leanings. The poor imbecile, my father, the wealthy stockbroker, used to call me, disgusted at what he considered his only child’s naivety.

She told me about the village.

“It was the Vozdh’s [2]idea that we, the poets, should live there. It was easier for his OGPU[3] to keep their eye on us if we all lived in the same village. All the dangerous wild animals locked in one cage. But the cunning bastard – forgive me for such a crude word please mister – wanted us to believe he had only our happiness in mind so he chose Zernoye Selo, pretty little Zernoye Selo. Comrades, every day you will eat fresh bread and not even to speak of the cream cakes you will be eating, and you will have the highway and the train which will get you to Moscow in no time, no time at all, he had told us. And mister, some of us even cried when that bastard died!”

              She was not a poet, but she was to become one of the villagers and they called anyone who lived by the written word – a journalist, playwright, translator, interpreter, printer, and indeed a writer of poetry – a poet. She used to be a copyreader at Pravda[4]. This was before she went to live in Zernoye Selo.


          My publisher told me I would find her on Red Square on any Wednesday of any month.

         “A snow blizzard won’t keep her away,” he said.

       As he also told me about the gabardine coat and the fur-lined boots, I had no problem picking her out from among the motley crowd of ice-cream peddlers, ticket touts, postcard sellers and beggars who hung about the square.

“Are you the woman named Tatyana Nikolayevna Brodovskaya,” I asked her.

She was quick to reply.

“My friends called me Tanya, my father called me Tanoshka. He was French. To my mother I was never Tanoshka, always Tanya. To the poet too I was Tanya. He was not one for sweetie pie names. It’s sweetie pie you say in the West don’t you?”

I invited her for a drink.

“That would be a really wonderful thing, but young man your Russian is not good. In fact, it is atrocious, so do take some time off from making money and learn to speak my language correctly.”

She said this without rancour. She was smiling and I noticed what beautiful teeth she had. They were small white pebbles which reminded me of corn not yet fully ripe.

I took her to my hotel, to the bar. The waiter jumped like a grasshopper in order to get behind her.  He did not want her to see him shake his head and point at her. Beggars aren’t allowed in here, Sir, said his face.

       “The lady and I will have some champagne. Moët et Chandon. A bottle please. Something to eat too,” I told him.

I watched the old woman lift the flute to her lips. Her calloused hands were trembling. Champagne trickled down her chin and pooled in the crease of wrinkled skin between her two sagging breasts.

“I presume you knew I come here on Wednesdays or you would not have recognized me looking as I do,” she said.

“Once a beautiful woman, always a beautiful woman,” I told her.

We drank to Lily. I proposed the toast.

“Ah, so you know the story?”

I shook my head.

“Only how others have told it, so I would like you to tell it to me, to tell me how it was with you and the poet.”

I thought her eyes were glistening with tears.

“Ah, the poet!  Boris Petrovich Beretzkoy! The poet … yes … my poet …,” she said.

Later, she would write to my editor. He took my ugly old hands in his and we drank to Lily and to what has gone and will never return. How gallant you English men are! Real gentlemen. And they say that the French ones are the gallant ones.

“I am writing a book about Boris Petrovich Beretzkoy,” I told her.

She put her flute down and looked me straight in the eye.

 “I thought as much, mister.” She paused. “Relax!  I will speak of him. I will speak of him.”

She was smiling.



Part One

Chapter One

            The English gentleman has come to stay. He’s come for two months.

I can see him through my kitchen window. He is sitting cross-legged on my garden bench.  It is summer and he is wearing green shorts and a yellow short-sleeved shirt. How oddly foreigners dress! He is going to take me to a restaurant later so I do hope he will change into some proper trousers and that he will put on his elegant yellow tie: he likes yellow ties. He has a notebook balanced on his naked hairy knees.

“Tanya, shall we start now?” he calls out.

“Why not!” I call back.

“I’m waiting,” he says and picks up a sharpened pencil.

Happily, I will walk down my lane of memories.


Chapter Two

            It is February 1931.

It is Wednesday, mid-morning, and Vasily, my husband, has been gone for three months. I am at my desk in Pravda’s editorial room. It is snowing as it did on the day the Chekists[5] came for my poor dear Vasily.

Our editorial room is on the second floor. It is a small circular room and it has only one window. My desk is in front of the window.  Some of my colleagues think I am privileged having this desk. I tell them not to talk nonsense. The window overlooks the courtyard where our garbage bins are stored. There is therefore no beautiful view for me to feast my eyes on.

This morning, in offices all over the building, we are putting to bed tomorrow’s issue. I am editing a report on collectivization.[6] To be exact: on the wreckers of collectivization. The word wrecker is much in use these days. Anyone who does not agree with Stalin is a wrecker: Trotsky and all Trotskyites and our Kulaks. Vasily, also, was called a wrecker, and, I suppose, I too am regarded by some people as one. Here in the Soviet Union we are responsible for the words and deeds of our spouses.

The report I am editing is ninety pages long. It is a Party [7]report. I knew it would be when I saw our supervisor sprint across the editorial floor. Our supervisor’s name is Yury Fiodorovich Makarov and he has a small, dark cubicle of an office that leads from our editorial room.  He moves fast only when the Party has sent over a report. Comrade Yury has a wooden leg. The real leg, his left one, he lost during our civil war. Now his family and friends speak of him having been awarded the wooden leg. The wooden leg and the medal that is always pinned to the lapel of his jacket. Wherever he goes in Moscow people ask him about the wooden leg and when they hear a bullet from the rifle of a White[8] robbed him of his left leg, they call him a great Soviet hero.

His story, and I’ve heard it often enough, is that despite the pain he felt after he was shot, his left leg dangling from his thigh like he was a broken puppet, he reloaded his rifle and shot the bastard White right between his repulsive tsar-adoring eyes.

On a warm day when it is not necessary for him to wear a jacket, he pins the medal to the collar of his shirt, but part with it, he will not.

I also know, because he has told me often, wide rubber bands tied around his waist hold his wooden leg in place.

The medal weighs ten grams; the wooden leg, ten kilograms.

“Quite a fucking weight to carry but I had to do it. Make fucking war against the fucking Tsar’s fucking Whites,” he always says.

He never asks to be excused for such language.

He now stands at my desk. His weight rests on his good leg. The foot of the wooden one points outwards as if he’s a Bolshoi ballet dancer about to perform a grande pirouette à la seconde.

“Comrade Emilyan Yaroslavsky has decided the report is to be tomorrow’s front-page lead,” he says.

Emilyan Mikhailovich Yaroslavsky is our editor.

The headline is going to be: Glory to Collectivization, Glory to the Proletariat, Glory to our Leader!


Comrade Victor Deni, our cartoonist, is working on a set of cartoons to accompany the article. Yury has seen one of the cartoons. It shows a huge tractor crushing half a dozen Kulaks[9]. On the tractor sits Stalin. Deni thinks the caption should read, Safe as long as he steers Russia.

He  – Iosef Vissaryonovich Dhughasvily – Stalin.


       I hear a clock strike noon. There are clocks all over our building.  In our country, no time should be wasted: World Revolution should not be delayed!

    I turn and look down into the courtyard. A black cat with white paws sits on one of the garbage bins. He rounds his back and tries to catch a snowflake with one of his white paws.

The door to Yury’s office flings open. I fear he has come with another Party report, but he is not sprinting. He is walking with a slow lopsided gait. It means that he has come to make an announcement which is unimportant.

I return to the report.

Old Russia was an agrarian country as we all know … Seventy-five per cent of the employed population was engaged in agriculture … Agriculture …

     Yury stops at Comrade Konstantin Alexandrovich Kasygin’s desk. Konstantin is also a copyreader. I do not like him. Like Yury he has a medal pinned to the lapel of his jacket. It is the medal of Best Student of the State Institute of Red Journalists for the year 1928.

It is not because of the medal that I dislike him. I do so because he grabbed Vasily’s desk before Vasily’s blood had even dried on the floor of our editorial room. Yes, blood was spilled the day the Chekists came for my husband.

Yury says something to Konstantin and they laugh. Both are in their thirties and being, as they are always saying, from the loins of tsar-haters, they get on well.

I’m not really listening, so all that I hear is that someone is coming to see Comrade Yaroslavsky.

“… at three …”

“Do you know why?” asks Konstantin.

I continue editing the report.

A large-scale collective farm is more profitable … the reorganization of small peasant households into large-scale farms is an inevitable historical process…

    “Yes, Beretzkoy is going to do a feature for us on Tolstoy. He’s coming to discuss it with Comrade Yaroslavsky,” says Yury.

Beretzkoy …

      I push the report aside.

“Beretzkoy? Did you say Beretzkoy?” I ask Yury.

“I did,” he replies.

He is leaning against Konstantin’s desk, the desk I still think of as Vasily’s.

“The poet – you know,” says Konstantin.

He turns and stares at me with tiny blue eyes.

I look straight into those eyes.

“There is no need for you to tell me who Beretzkoy is!”

Konstantin turns towards Yury.

“Lofty as always, isn’t she?”

Yury nods. He starts walking back to his office. He is walking even slower. There are times when he finds his wooden leg very heavy. When this happens, he tells us, he can hardly lift the leg, not even to speak of walking. He halts for a moment and, with a quiver that rolls over him like an ocean wave over a fish, he walks on. The wooden leg he is pulling behind him. I watch. He bangs the door of his office.

I should continue with the report.

I pick up my pencil and start to read the next paragraph.

The Soviet Government will provide extensive financial … In 1925 the country … collectivization will be promoted by the rapid development of industry … Without a …

              I point the sharpened end of my pencil at the next word – doubt – but my mind wanders away from collectivization.

 I think of what Yury came to tell us.

The poet Beretzkoy is coming to Pravda.Boris Petrovich Beretzkoy.I’ve been obsessed with this man for years. My parents say I have a crush on him. I’ve been telling them it is not a crush. It is reverence. Reverence not only for the man but so too for his talent: his poetry. If anyone asks me whether I have a wish, I will say if only I can meet the poet Beretzkoy.

As Emilyan Yaroslavksy’s office is off a hallway behind our editorial room, we always see his guests because they have to walk through here, and, often, after their meeting with him, they come and speak to us. They want to know what will be in the next day’s Pravda. I will therefore see Beretzkoy, and, maybe – just maybe – my wish will come true and I will be introduced to him.

For the first time since the Chekists took Vasily, I am smiling.


               I think of Vasily every day. I married him eleven months after I joined Pravda. He too was a copyreader. Our getting married was my idea. The Chekists put him on their list[10].  I believed that because of who I was – the daughter of a man who was in exile with Lenin – I could, no, I would be able to save him.  I told my parents I had proposed to him – I really did ask him to marry me – and my father sat me down because he said we would have to speak about it. He said he wanted to tell me about Voltaire and what the latter wrote in Candide. I thought it was not a time to talk French literature or philosophy, but he told me to try to keep silent for just once in my life.

       “My darling Tanoshka, Voltaire wrote pour vivre heureux: vivons cachés.”

            To live happily: Live hidden.

            In the past, living hidden was not his way. It became his way. And now he wanted me to make it mine too.

My father, Nicholas Jean Tissier, French, young and Communist, left his comfortable home and hearth in Paris to join the exiled Lenin in London and in April 1917 he was with Vladymir Ilyich – never do my parents call Lenin anything but Vladymir Ilyich – on the sealed train when it pulled into Saint-Petersburg’s Finland Station.  In Russia – Soviet Union  as it was to become soon afterwards – he changed his name to Nikolai – Nikolai Nikolayevich Tisinski – and he fell in love with my mother, the girl who was teaching him Russian: Tatyana Alexandrovna Bubnovskaya. She was the daughter of two Bolshevik revolutionaries whom Tsar Nicholas II had executed. Together my father and mother then fought for the cause – transforming our country into a socialist paradise. My father did so at Lenin’s side in the Kremlin. He became the Kremlin’s emissary to the French sector of the Komintern[11], and my mother worked with Krupskaya, Lenin’s wife, in caring for our Bezprizorni.[12] But Lenin died and Stalin took over after having ended the triumvirate rule which followed Lenin’s death, and my parents, never having liked or trusted the man of steel, remembered Voltaire’s words, and decided it was wiser to live hidden. My father gave up his position in the Kremlin and took up the minor post of assistant to the assistant interpreter-translator at the French language studies department of the People’s Commissariat of Education. My mother retired.

Marrying a man who was on the Chekists’ list was drawing attention to myself.

“You are our only child, we can not lose you,” my father told me.


                I hear footsteps on our stairs. Footsteps and voices.  One voice I recognize. It is that of Nina Mikhailovna Ivanova. A septuagenarian, she’s our receptionist and she’s the one who brings Comrade Yaroslavsky’s guests upstairs.  Like Yury, she also did her duty for our country during the civil war, and like him, she was rewarded. Her reward was not a medal – and fortunately for her not a wooden leg either. It was her position as Pravda’s receptionist: hers until she draws her last breath.   She is beginning to feel her years but every day she tells us she is still up to the job. So, if someone drops a pencil on the floor, she will pick it up and sharpen it before she hands it back to you. When Yury asks her to pin a note on the notice board, she will make copies to pin up all over the building. And she never walks at a normal speed but always fast-fast-fast.  She even walks fast when she brings one of Comrade Yaroslavsky’s guests upstairs, no matter how illustrious, old or frail the comrade may be. Today, I will offer to help her sharpen every pencil in Moscow and to help her make copies of every notice Yury has ever written in his capacity as our supervisor, but, today, she must not hurry the poet through our editorial room. Today, she must walk him through slowly. I want to have a good look at him, feast my eyes and fill my heart with the look of him.

     The footsteps and voices are now behind the door that leads from the staircase to our editorial room. I drop my pencil.  The door flings open. Nina is in her bottle-green dress, her uniform, as she calls it but we all know the green dress is the only one she has, but who has wardrobes full of clothes? Behind her is the poet: I recognize him from the photographs I have of him. There are strands of grey in his black hair. A curl hangs over his forehead. His eyes are dark, almost black. His eyebrows are thick and greying like his hair. He is wearing a brown corduroy suit. My mother will say the suit had seen better days: the elbows are patched and the corduroy is unravelling at the seams.

Konstantin clears his throat. I turn to look at him. He rolls his eyes: he is telling me to get back to work. I roll my eyes at him too.  He shakes his head and mouths something in my direction. I contemplate shaking my head too, but I will let him be the victor this day.


            I am still untouched. This is how my mother will call my virginity should she know Vasily Sergeyevich Brodov and I were never lovers.  We were colleagues and friends – best friends – but on the few nights we were together after we’ve been to ZAGS[13] to make our union official and before the Chekists came for him, he slept on a mattress on the floor of his small room in his communal apartment where I still live and I slept on his bed. We might have gone to bed together had the Chekists not come for him. Who knows? He was an attractive man with his sand-coloured curls and green eyes, and these are the things young girls look for in a lover. And I am a young girl.

              Vasily and I were on the dance floor in a tavern when I heard from him the Chekists have put him on their list.  Three men have started to follow me. That was what he said to me. I said he was imagining it. He wasn’t: I saw them. When we left the tavern they were outside on the pavement. They were easily recognizable because they wore the Chekists’ trademark attire: black leather cap, jacket, riding breeches and high, narrow boots. We boarded a tram and they got on too and while silence descended over the frightened passengers, they sat down behind us.  When I descended at the stop closest to my parents’ building, they stayed on the tram with Vasily. The next morning, standing at his desk, I asked him to marry me.

“My father was with Lenin in London and he was with Lenin on the sealed train and my father was with Lenin in the Smolny[14] and his name stands for something and as his son-in-law, Stalin won’t be able to touch you,” I said.

“Tanya, my dear little Tanya, I can not drag you into this,” he replied.

I told him my proposal stood

“It’s here should you change your mind.”

He did not change his mind. Forty-eight hours later, it was changed for him. The Moscow Housing Committee summoned him to discuss his housing problem

“You don’t have a housing problem,” I told

“No, but there is no doubt now that I do have a Chekist problem,” he replied.

Two days later, we went to ZAGS and signed the required documents to make us man and wife: until death do us part.

For all I know, death has already parted us.


                 No one ever stays long in Comrade Yaroslavsky’s office.  He is inclined to say to his guests something like, although I would love to listen to you, I will have to end our little chat. Sometimes, he will flick his head towards the wall on his right and wait until the visiting comrade looks that way and then he says, Comrade Stalin has asked to see me. On the wall hang portraits of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin. Stalin hangs between Engels and Lenin and it is by far the largest portrait. It is also the only one in colour. I’ve seen it. Stalin’s skin is pink; Stalin’s hair and moustache are biscuit-brown; Stalin’s uniform is pinkish-brown and Stalin’s eyes are fuchsia. Vasily told me of the day the portrait was carried up from our printing presses, transformed from black and white into colour. Many came to watch and Comrade Yaroslavsky stepped from his office, in jacket but without tie – ties are bourgeois and are not to be worn – to escort the portrait to its place on the wall. Later, our chief printer was named Best Worker of the Year. He was told Stalin will be sending him a congratulatory telegram and he had danced with joy, his hands folded over his chest and his legs kicking into the air. The telegram never materialized.

     How I wish Comrade Yaroslavsky will again use the meeting-with-Comrade-Stalin excuse so that the poet won’t stay long with him.

Wishing is a waste of time my mother always says.


                Nina is first to step back into our editorial room. She looks like an apple in her green dress, an apple with two bright red spots where the sun is caressing it: she’s blushing. A few paces behind her, follows the poet. She speaks to him over her shoulder and she points to the office they’ve just left. He nods. She points to Yury’s office. He nods again. The door to Yury’s office opens and Yury appears in the doorway and beckons the two to enter. Unlike Comrade Yaroslavsky, our supervisor is a talker – he has many civil war stories to tell – and his guests undoubtedly stay long: some of them even have to start backing out gradually while he is still talking. He tells of how he had, with his last breath – which then turned out to be not quite his last breath – lifted his rifle to aim at the spot just above the tsarist pig’s snout and saw the life escape his tsarist snake-like eyes.

                 I count the minutes and I keep my eyes on the door of Yury’s office. I have finished my edit of the Party report and I have even already started to type it out for our printers. Fortunately, I am a fluent typist and my eyes do not need to be on the keys of my Remington typewriter, which a few years ago, with another few dozen typewriters, was a gift to Pravda from an American millionaire philanthropist.

The door opens. Out steps Nina and behind her the poet, then Yury. The latter is trying not to pull his wooden leg behind him and he is doing well. He puts each foot down firmly on the wooden floor like a man with two good legs. He touches the poet’s arm and points to the door and the stairs. The poet ignores the hand on his arm and walks over to the nearest desk in our editorial room.

It is Andrey Antonovich Shalamov’s desk.

Andrey is about to retire.  He is a dull man. His only topic of conversation is honey: he keeps bees. He and his wife live in a communal apartment shared with two other couples and their numerous children and grandchildren. He keeps the bees on the roof of their apartment block.

The poet shakes Andrey’s hand and Andrey begins talking. I can’t hear what he’s saying but he must be talking about bees, or honey.

Yury turns and pulls his wooden leg back to his office. He’s heard all Andrey’s bee and honey stories. So have we all.

Nina stays to listen to what he has to say.  She likes Andrey – he is always bringing her little pots of honey in which dead bees float, their wings spread out like those of a fly caught on a strip of glue-laden flypaper.

The poet’s eyes are small and slightly slanted. My mother will say there must be Levantine blood in him from two or three generations back and such blood will make him a determined man.  Determined to have what is best and prettiest. I can hear her say, “Mark my words, Tanya, such a man is best not to be in love with”.

The poet shakes Andrey’s hand and says goodbye. Without stopping my typing I watch him walk to the next desk and once again he stops and talks for a while. Will he stop at each desk? Will he stop at mine?

He stops at Konstantin’s desk. The two shake hands.  My desk is next. I continue typing, but now, bashfully, my eyes are on the keyboard.


He is at my desk. He has spoken to me. I look up and into his eyes. They are the colour of the sky on a winter night. They are smiling. The rebel strands of hair still lie over his forehead. He flicks them back with a swift flip of his head. He is no longer a young man: this, too, my admiring eyes can see. There are lines, fine lines, but lines all the same, at the corners of his mouth. Again, I hear my mother’s voice. “Tanya, he is too old for you, you are asking to be a young widow.” And my father will ask whether they brought me up to see me in widow’s weeds, weeping over a coffin.

“Yes?” I reply to his greeting.


My parents have taught me, drilled into me, to always add tovarishch when I address an older person, yet I’ve omitted to do so.

He holds a hand out to me. His skin is cold. Cold and soft.  It is not the hand of a man who works the earth or lays bricks. It is the hand of an artist.  His nails are short, clean, shiny, the edges cut straight.

“Are you a journalist too?” he asks.

Do I not look like  one.

“Copyreader,” I mumble. “I only correct what others have written.”

“Why do you say only?”

“Should it not be only when one is only correcting what others have written?”

“Don’t tell me you do not realise that without people like you there will be even more inaccuracies in the truth?”


Comrade Yaroslavsky won’t tolerate such a pun.

Fortunately, Nina is not with us – she has remained at Konstantin’s desk – or she might quite possibly denounce me at our next workers’ meeting for having participated in an anti-Soviet conversation.

“I didn’t realise, no,” I lie.

He smiles.

“I think you did.  I can see it in your eyes.”

I smile too. Shyly.

“Green eyes. Beautiful green eyes. Where did you get them?”

“My mother.”

“May I?”

He points at the sheet of paper in my typewriter. I know I’ve made some errors typing. The keys of my Remington jam.  Don’t bash that keyboard so hard, it’s not your property, Konstantin shouts at me almost every day. Any day now I’m going to lose my temper and shout a big word back at him, and I will do so in French, my father’s mother tongue: Merde! And what would I care if he can understand French?

  The poet bends over me to read what I’ve typed. His breath is warm against my face.

“Do you agree with this?”

His breath has the metallic smell of Soviet toothpaste.

“You shouldn’t ask me such a question,” I reply.

“No, I shouldn’t. My apologies.”

Yury walks back into the editorial office and joins Nina at Konstantin’s desk. He glares at me. He starts shifting his weight from one leg to the other, resting on the real leg a little longer.  He is in pain and wants to sit down.

“I think you have to go,” I whisper to Beretzkoy.

I have started to think of him as Beretzkoy and not the poet. Always he has been the poet.

Yury clears his throat. Once only, but loudly.

“Is that what the clearing of the throat means?” whispers Beretzkoy.


“I’m getting you into trouble.”

“That’s alright.”

He looks around the room.  Our editorial room is not pleasing to the eye. It is a brown room: The brown of papirosi[17]. The walls are brown; the ceiling is brown; our desks and chairs are brown; our notebooks are brown and even the thousands of back-editions of Pravda piled onto the shelves covering almost half of one brown wall are brown and even the bits of string which hold these bundles together are brown and so is the ink with which the dates of the editions have been written on the side of each bundle. Even the sheet of paper in my typewriter is light brown and we use brown ribbons, and how our typesetters manage to read what we type, because we are not often issued with fresh ribbons, I do not know.

He looks back at me.

“Are you really happy working in such a dull room?”

“My work is interesting.”

He points to the sheet of paper in my typewriter.


“It’s a Party report.”

“Oh! I will have to get Pravda tomorrow!”

Yury clears his throat yet again.

“I think I ought to go or you will be in real trouble. But it was pleasant talking to you,” says Beretzkoy, straightening up.

I do not want him to go.

“If I knew you were going to come here today I would have brought one of your books and you could have autographed it for me,” I tell him.

“You have one of my books? A young thing like you,” he asks, his eyes laughing.

“I like to read,” I mumble, embarrassed at being called a young thing.

“I’ll tell you what. I’ll autograph one and post it to you.”

What to say but thank you? Thank you very much indeed, you have made me the happiest woman on earth talking to me.

He holds his right hand out to me.

Do svidaniya[18],” I say.

“Not yet,” he says.

He takes my right hand and turns it over like gypsy women do when they grab our hands on the street to foretell our future, but he is not a teller of the future. He slips his right hand underneath mine and puts his left over both our hands and this way he holds me, locked, secure, for a few moments.

I watch him walk away.  He does not turn to look my way.


       I tell my parents I have met Beretzkoy. I do not say the poet. I say Beretzkoy.

       “I trust you didn’t make a fool of yourself,” says my mother.

“He was at my desk for only a moment,” I protest.

“That would have been long enough,” says my father.

“Young girls can be so silly.” adds my mother.


[1] Collective farm.

[2] The Boss. In this case Stalin.

[3] The Soviet State Security Organization (1923/1934).

[4] Official Communist Party Newspaper.

[5] A member of the Cheka, the first of a succession of Soviet State security organisations, founded by Lenin in 1917.

[6] Stalin’s enforced policy to consolidate individually-owned land into giant collective farms.

[7] The Communist Party, the only political party authorised in the Soviet Union.

[8] Pro-tsarist fighters during the civil war which had followed the Bolshevik revolution of 1917.

[9]  Land-owning farmers.

[10] The expression used when the OGPU began to show an interest in someone.

[11] International Association of Workers and/or Communist Parties.

[12] Homeless children who flooded the cities and towns after the 1917 Revolution.

[13] The civil registry office where all births, deaths and marriages have to be recorded.

[14] A school for young girls from the Russian aristocracy, the building had become Bolshevik headquarters during the 1917 Revolution.

[15] Comrade.

[16] Pravda in Russian.

[17] A Soviet cigarette.

[18]  Goodbye.



Pasternak at work

The young poet Pasternak

Marilyn Z. Tomlins

3 Responses to “Extract … my novel ‘For the Love of a Poet’ …”

  1. 3
    Oui Says:

    Comments section on Chevaline shootings is closed!?

  2. 2
    Marilyn Z. Tomlins Says:


    Thank you. You will get a copy of the book — when there is one!

  3. 1
    schistophrenic Says:

    Hi Marilyn, This is great. Thanks for posting. I want to read more. 🙂

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