Friday, 4 November 2016
I am reading Alexander Herzen's 'My Past and Thoughts', a massive, unwieldy and unclassifiable collection of memoir, political polemic and letters, plentifully bestrewn with long footnotes. It is mystifyingly little known in this country, but treasured as a classic in Russia, Herzen's native land.
Since our fifth Moffat Russian Conference, I feel twinges of the old trouble: I sometimes introduce myself at public gatherings as 'a recovering Russianist'. 'That country' as my former husband John used to call it with a a mixture of despair and reverence. Since our Russian guests departed, I have had time to look carefully through a slim paperback volume they brought with them, about Marina Tsvetaeva, one of the five poets celebrated at our conference. It turns out to have an introduction by Mikhail ('Misha') Men', a governor of the Ivanovo region whence the Tsvetaevs originated, and a distant relation. Misha is now Minister for Building and Construction in the Putin government, a far cry from his early career as a hard rock musician. He and his famous father Alexander used to listen to a bootleg record of Andrew Lloyd Webber's 'Jesus Christ, Superstar' together. What a complicated country, populated by complicated people, Russia is.