In this Moscow—where philologists, both local and foreign, hunted witnesses to the previous epoch; where the widows of famous writers were worshipped (Nadezhda Mandelstam, for example); where anyone who had survived, outlived others, and was in a state to testify about it, was worshipped; where the world was alive with memoirs, mementos, and diaries, with collectors and archivists, with artists real and phony, with those who had ‘sat’ (sidet’), i.e. been in a camp, and those ashamed that they hadn’t—I met Pilnyak’s son, Boris. I didn’t think of myself as a “hunter”; the pervasive zeal for biographism held no appeal, though I understood where it came from. In this milieu, the battle won by the Russian Formalists—the great battle for the text of a work of art—proved futile. The texts of innumerable authors disappeared beneath a stampede of biographical details…
Boris Andronikashvili was Pilnyak’s son from the writer’s third marriage to famed Georgian screen actress and director Kira Andronikashvili. Boris was tall, strong, and handsome, and also a trained screen actor. He felt himself Georgian, was proud of his aristocratic surname, spoke Russian with a heavy Georgian accent (as all Georgians do), in his house they drank chacha and ate khachapuri: his true home was not cold and scentless Moscow, but “the city of roses and mutton tallow,” as Isaac Babel wrote of Tbilisi. By the time we met he had abandoned film and now occupied himself with the administration of his father’s estate. With no training in such matters, he did so in an amateur fashion. He himself had written several works of prose. He was in his second marriage, from which he had two children, five-year-old Kira, and two-year-old Sandro.
I never wrote my Master’s thesis on Boris Pilnyak; I gave up halfway. Later, I translated The Naked Year, “Snowstorm,” and “A Story about How Stories Come to Be Written” into Croatian, and I did write a Master’s thesis, but on something entirely different. I saw Boris twice more, the last time on September 6, 1989, during a short stay in Moscow, when he gifted me a volume by his father, printed the same year, the foreword for which he had written himself. Were it not for his dated dedication in the inside cover, I wouldn’t remember the details. I almost didn’t recognize him, his expression one of indeterminate internal capitulation. We exchanged several letters, and then lost all contact. The Soviet Union fell apart, then Yugoslavia fell apart, and I left the country. I have closed many files, among them, the year in Moscow when I was supposed to delve deep into the work of Boris Pilnyak, but instead, in place of literature, I delved into life, even though at the time, the two appeared difficult to separate.
Boris Andronikashvili died in 1996, in his sixty-second year of life. I discovered that on the internet. His collected works were published in 2007, in two volumes. His daughter Kira did her Master’s and published a book on her grandfather, as well as editing two impressive volumes of Pilnyak’s letters. I’m not sure I’ll read those books. I travel a lot, crisscross borders, and try to carry as little luggage with me as possible. I’ve closed many files. And once closed, files gradually become unreadable.
To read the entire story, purchase your copy of Music & Literature no. 6. . .