It’s an exceptionally warm winter day in Peredelkino, a former writers’ village just 20
minutes from Moscow by commuter train. I have the pleasure of going on another well-
organized and informative SRAS-arranged Bridge to Moscow tour to visit this iconic
place. Peredelkino is a village with wide-ranging cultural value, from its status as a
religiously significant location to being home to many famous Soviet writers. This is the
closest village to Moscow were one can get a glimpse of a traditional lifestyle, but it is
still focused on receiving visitors and Pasternak’s home remains the main attraction for most.
Religion and Traditional Life
As our tour group approaches the village, the first thing we see is a magnificent
Orthodox church with candy-colored cupolas, somewhat reminiscent of St. Basil’s
Cathedral (and in fact inspired by it, as we learn). This church is right next to the
summer residence of the Patriarch, our guide explains, which explains the ornateness of
this particular complex. We step inside to briefly observe the Sunday service going on and continue on our way.
Seeing such beauty surrounding us excites our appetites, so we stop at a booth with a
huge selection of pirozhki and sloiki, which are little buns stuffed with savory fillings like
cottage cheese, spinach, and chicken, and layered pastries with fruit fillings,
respectively. We also try sbiten, a traditional herbal honey beverage served piping hot.
As we munch down on these flavorful pastries, we agree that they definitely fit the
aesthetic of Peredelkino very well. We’re now ready to move on to the central focus of
Peredelkino, of course, is known for much more than churches and baked goods. This
village was originally designed in the Soviet Union as a planned settlement for famous
writers and included members of the literati like Boris Pasternak and Kornei Chukovsky.
We make our way towards the graveyard to pay homage to Pasternak and our guide acquaints us with the complexity of his life. This was a man with a wise voice, a lifelong limp from an injury, and a dramatic life, from a Nobel Prize scandal to an affair with his lover Olga (who played a large role in his literature alongside his life), and lifelong struggles against the authorities.
We then approach his house, by those standards likely somewhat of a mansion. It’s a
spacious two story home with large windows and a comfortable dining room. There are
signs of his artistic heritage all around, from sketches that his father drew hanging from
the walls to a grand piano in one of the bedrooms—his father was an artist and his
mother was a pianist. Pasternak also had artistic inclinations from a young age but was unsure of what to pursue; first wanting to be a musician, then studying philosophy, until finally settling on becoming a writer.
Pasternak was very popular among the people, both for his original poems and
translations of Shakespeare. His most famous work, however, Doctor Zhivago, brought
him acclaim at the cost of much of his happiness. The novel painted life in the Soviet
Union in a starkly realistic image and was denied publication—censors accused the
novel of being anti-Soviet. Soon afterwards, an Italian publisher approached him and
asked for the manuscript, offering to get it published abroad. Pasternak realized that he
was taking a risk but obliged, and within a few months it ended up being published in
1957 in Italy, then in one Western country after another.
Then, in 1958, Boris Pasternak was nominated for the Nobel Prize. Authorities were not
happy with this because of the disregard for Doctor Zhivago back home, and the
nomination caused a huge scandal. Pasternak was shunned by the media through public
denunciations and ostracized by his neighbors. There were even demonstrations calling
for him to be exiled from the Soviet Union. Pasternak knew that if he traveled to
Stockholm to collect the Prize, he would not be allowed to return.
As a result, Pasternak declined the Nobel Prize and stayed in Russia with his family. He
worked on translations and wrote one last book, then his health began to decline and he
died at age 70 on May 30, 1960. Despite the authorities making his funeral a private
event and banning photographs, it was attended by thousands of people and they
recited his poems and gave speeches for hours.
Peredelkino is still a residential area, and it seems that some Muscovites keep dachas
here. We see a Mercedes drive through the slush as we walk around the village, and
then come upon the street where Kornei Chukovsky lived. Chukovsky was another
famous resident, a poet and translator, and most remembered for his beloved children’s
poetry. To this day, all Russian children learn Chukovsky’s poems by heart when they are
beginning to read—and how could they not, when they read about such engaging
characters as a talking washbasin that chases you down the street to get you to brush
your teeth? Interestingly, it’s perhaps because of this literary role Chukovsky had that
he was able to avoid the scrutiny and persecution that other writers of the time faced,
and even openly supported Pasternak during the time of his scandal. He died in
Peredelkino in 1969, and his home now functions as a museum in his name.
As we make our way back to the train station, the sun is shining brightly, just starting its
descent. The glistening snow starts turning to slush under our feet, but the wind chill
reminds us that spring is still far away. I am thankful for this opportunity to learn about
the history of my country and its great writers. Everything, even if it looks stunningly
beautiful, has a dark side to it. This makes it critical to know the history of a place through the
people that lived in it, and the settlement of Peredelkino is a fitting example.
About the Author
Arina Martemyanova is a third-year Political Science major at the University of Florida. Over spring 2019, she is studying on SRAS’ program Diplomacy and International Relations at MGIMO. She chose to study in Russia because of its importance on the global stage and to better understand its position on key issues. As a dual US-Russian citizen, she believes it is valuable to have a fair view of both countries, which she believe will also advance her global career prospects.