March 01, 2015

Yuri Nagibin

Yuri Nagibin led an incredibly hard life, although, by Soviet standards, from the outside his life may have looked charmed. He was never sent to the Gulag, he returned from the World War II front in one piece, and, despite having a Jewish patronymic (Markovich), he was never targeted during the late-Stalin-era anti-Semitic “struggle against cosmopolitanism.” Furthermore, later in life, his fiction was both honored by the authorities and genuinely loved and read by ordinary people, a balancing act that few achieved.

On closer inspection, a deep sense of dissatisfaction belied this façade of success.

The tragic string of events that shaped Nagibin’s life extends to before his birth, when his father, a nobleman who took part in a 1920 peasant uprising in Kursk Province, was put to death. His pregnant mother had no desire to bring a child into this cruel and hungry time, not even to continue the family line. According to her own account, “I tried jumping off all sorts of cupboards so that I would miscarry. But my son was born anyway. Only when they brought him to me to be fed did I begin to feel any tenderness for him.”

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