An interview with Ziemowit Fedecki (Doctor Zhivago in Poland, part II)

Ziemowit Fedecki (1923-2009) played an important role in the publication of Doctor Zhivago in Opinie (1957). In the previous post, I quoted some passages from an interview with Fedecki by Anna Żebrowska, which appeared in 2003 in the issue 46 of Przeglad (for the original Polish text see http://www.przeglad-tygodnik.pl/pl/artykul/cieniu-doktora-zywago). This post contains the translation into English of the interview. I am grateful to Rafal Urbaniak for his translation.

In the shadow of “Doctor Zhivago”

Friends of the red heir.

 Gałczyński and Pasternak asked me for my remarks about their work. I had to vow that I would tell what I really think. 

 Ziemowit Fedecki

Ziemowit Fedecki (1923-2009)

Ziemowit Fedecki (1923-2009)

Żebrowska: They call you “the red heir”.

Fedecki: As the Polish saying goes, only a cow doesn’t change her views. I will be such a cow, because I confess I have socialist convictions. I am a son of a pre-war work inspector. In Białystok, which was then  an industrial region focusing on textile production, my father closed two factories, which produced uniforms for Japanese army. To make them cheaper, they were made from second hand material – they tore rags. To make them even cheaper, they employed children for the nights. Their lungs lasted three to four months. Then even the strongest one would die. Unemployed families would give up their kids to die in order to avoid starvation for four months. When someone has seen the unbelievable poverty and atrocities of capitalism those days…

Żebrowska: So I have an explanation of “red”. And “heir”?

Fedecki: I was only a kid, when I inherited an estate called Great Lebioda from my grandfather Józef Michniewicz. It was located at the crossing of the roads leading to Lida, Grodno and Szczuczyn. Around 450 ha was occupied by a forest which couldn’t be cut. In 1920 Prażmowski-Belina camped there with the Soviet cavalry and big heads from the HQ decided that the forest was of strategic importance and was to remain intact till the next war. I didn’t grow up to be a “real” heir, I was a few years too young. After the Russian invasion in 1939, the old building was left unattended and unrenovated, so it fell apart after a dozen years or so. It’s a real shame, it was a very beautiful historic building, renovated and shown in many architecture textbooks.  We burned wood in XVIIIth century Dutch stoves, which survived the conflagration of war. And in “my” forest we woud steal wood for my bosom friend’s house, Wałodzi Malec. It was thanks to him that I got to know the exceptional charm of Belarussian folk songs, which charmed Mickiewicz and Czeczot.

Żebrowska: Why atheism in a boy from a good family, gentry?

Fedecki: Maybe you need a gift to believe, and I don’t have it. My grandmother was raised in a convent, but my parents were leftists and “Poprostu”  ["directly" or "straight"] was published in our apartment – the first one, from Wilno. For their activity in POW [Polish Military Organization] and other merits for Polish independence, my parents received Crosses of Valor; on account of the leftist “Poprostu” my father was suspended from work. During the [German] occupation my mom waged her private war against the Gestapo, stealing children from the Wilno’s ghetto who were meant to be put to death with injections. In my bed slept a Jew with a shot in his chest and a woman already drenched in lime during the Jew massacre in Ponary.

Żebrowska: How did you get out of Wilno?

Fedecki: In 1944 Putrament and Jędrychowski flew in, and they needed people for the PKWN [Polish Committee of National Liberation]. Jędrychowski offered me a job in their radio. Meanwhile my friends from AK [Home Army] were in great danger. Wilno was taken by joint AK and Russian military effort, after which the Russians raided the Poles, sending them to a forced labor camp in Kaluga. I went to Putrament and asked if he couldn’t get at least a few AK members to Lublin. “Bring them the day after tomorrow to the airport”. With Janek Mietkowski (later, the president of Radio Three and a minister) we buried his weapon in a flowerbed, gathered the others, and went to the airport. Putrament told the Russian security detail “Eto moia grupa” [This is my group, in Russian], he put us on a Dakota and we landed in Lublin. I was even curious whether our friends wouldn’t run straight to the forest, but it wasn’t proper to ask. It turned out they were sick of both war and forest. Forests were terrible, it is enough to watch Różewicz’s “Into the ground”. They went to university, got civil jobs. Only few of them ended up in the army.

Żebrowska: My father also did that – from the NSZ [National Armed Forces] he escaped from the NKVD to the army. You, however, ended up in diplomacy.

Ziemowit Fedecki (1923-2009)

Ziemowit Fedecki (1923-2009)

Fedecki: Already before the war ended I left for Moscow as a press attaché of the Polish embassy. I was there, watching from the gradinata in front of Kremlin the famous victory parade, when Russian solders would throw German flags in front of the Mausoleum. To prove myself that everything passes I kept my pass for the funeral of the all-mighty ideologist Andrei Zhdanov.

Żebrowska: Who were your friends in Moscow?

Fedecki: Mostly friends from the university, because without telling anyone I enrolled to study biology. I will never meet such amazing people. They came back from the front lines often without legs, without hands, they knew everything about Stalinism, we understood each other in half words. I left the university when they kicked out those professors who disparaged Lysenko’s theories. One of my friends was Alexander Werth, a correspondent for the “Manchester Guardian”, with whom we illegally went to the Republic of Chechnya, which was liquidated after the war. Kilometers of emptiness – empty houses, no living soul. Our guide was a journalist of “Socialist Ossetia”, who knew everyone there. On the face of it, there was no trace of Chechens, but the commandant of the old stronghold complained: “Pigs, those Chechens! They come back secretly to their settlements, especially the elderly. One knows all the paths, covers himself with leafs if he needs to, we can’t trace him. Then he reaches his village and hangs himself, right in plain sight. Later, an inspection issues complaints from the Party, forgets about us in promotions, because we weren’t good guards. How can we watch them, pigs, sons of…!”

Żebrowska: Boris Pasternak’s son, Evgenii till today tells the Poles about how you financed their family.

Fedecki: I was honored to.

Żebrowska: Was in the years of the fights with the cosmopolitans?

Fedecki: Yes, I even joked one day: “Boris Leonidovich, I thought I was done helping Jews after the occupation, but I see there’s plenty of work to be done”… Pasternak had a large family to maintain. It’s difficult to make ends meet making money on poetry, anywhere in the world. Pasternak made some money preparing translations. He even translated from Polish, even though he didn’t know the language, and didn’t understand much from Słowacki’s or Leśmian’s poetics. Jokingly he apologized that he was doing this ” for milk for the children.” When after the war the anti-semite mess began, they stopped printing his work, Shakespeare’s plays in his translation were taken off stage.

Stefan Żółkiewski (1911-1991)

Stefan Żółkiewski (1911-1991)

At that time, Stefan Żółkiewski, the editor of Kuźnica, came to Moscow, a charming man. I told him that Pasternak had no money to live. “We’ll figure out something – said Żółkiewski – I’ll prepare bills for the articles that didn’t go through the censorship.” When I went to Moscow, I took the money. I gave it to him, waited till the 1st of the month and again brought an envelope [with money], saying that another royalty had arrived. This continued for a few good months. I was making quite a lot, so I was giving him half of my salary. That’s probably why he gave me later the manuscript of Doctor Zhivago. When translations returned to the [theater] stages, Pasternak said “I don’t need royalties anymore.” Perhaps he had some idea as to where the money came from, given his dedication on a volume “To Dear Ziemowit as a proof of friendship and to remember the times, when he was the good soul for me and my family.”

Żebrowska: A few people harboured a grudge against you, because you didn’t publish the whole of Doctor Zhivago.

Fedecki: For God’s sake, it was mid-50s, there were no private publishers or secondary circulation.  In the journal Opinie [Opinions] we could only publish part of the story, which we did one year before the Nobel prize and it was the first publication in the world. The translator, Ms Maria Mongirdowa, fell ill and died. I passed it on to Seweryn Pollak, who signed a contract with PIW [Panstwowy Instytut Wydawniczy].

Seweryn Pollak (1907-1987)

Seweryn Pollak (1907-1987)

In the West no one cared about the piece until Pasternak got the Nobel prize. And in Poland we couldn’t publish a book considered to be anti-Soviet, whose author was expelled from the [Soviet] writers’ association. When they later called Pollak from PIW, they were even afraid to mention the title of the piece: “Mr Seweryn, we have a contract with you for this piece, you know which one. Please do not refund us the advance, and in general, we won’t talk about it.” Perhaps, Herling-Grudziński [Gustaw Herling-Grudziński], who wrote that Doctor Zhivago did not appear because of Fedecki’s pettiness, has not heard of censorship in the PRL [Polish People's Republic], but a few people still remember it.

Żebrowska: I browsed through the first issue of the quarterly Opinie. Apart from Pasternak, there were quite a few authors at that time prohibited in the USSR: Babel, Mandelstam, Tsvetaeva. How come this could appear in 1957?

Fedecki: Diplomatic manouvers. We applied for funding at TPPR [Polish-Soviet Friendship Society], which later ran into troubles because of that. What’s worse, we started cooperating with Władysław Siła-Nowicki, who just got out of a UB [Polish Secret Police] prison — he reviewed books for us. But Opinie was the only periodic of TPPR that disappeared from news stalls in two days.

Żebrowska: I can imagine the reaction in USSR.

Fedecki: Literaturnaia Gazeta published a piece “Whose opinions are these?” (Western revisionists’, they discovered). The eulogist of “a real man”, Boris Polevoi, petitioned for a “social” trial of the editorial board. They wrote about me that I’m a perfidious exhumator of pseudoliterature [Actually, this takes place in a second article published by Literaturnaia Gazeta, titled Trojan horse, where one finds Polevoi's attack against Fedecki]. For a long period I was not sent to Moscow, they stopped inviting me for movies at the Russian embassy. Opinie appeared only twice, but in the second issue the censorship’s interference was so strong that with Pollak we refused to sign it.

Żebrowska: Kira Gałczyńska wrote that it was you who discovered Mazury and Pranie.

Fedecki: I lived there in the summer, at a friendly forester, Mr Popowski. From Moscow I brought only 100 dollars of savings, the rest of the money I spent for books in second-hand bookshops. For 100 dollars I purchased a SHL (it’s a great motorcycle), and with Janek Mietkowski we went to Mazury. They reminded us of Wileńszczyzna [Wilno's surroundings], we discovered places very much like our places back in Wileńszczyzna. But for a long time now I haven’t gone to Mazury, where nowadays teams from Zakopane build highlanders’ huts for ladies from the society. I have a small house in Tuchola.

Żebrowska: Jan Gałczyński ended up in the forester’s lodge in Pranie?

Fedecki: Only by accident. I had an appointment with a lady-friend in a café. She didn’t come, it turned out that at that time she was getting married for the second or third time. I waited for her for half an hour, the evening seemed empty, so I dropped by Gałczyński’s place.

Natalia and Konstanty Gałczyński

Natalia and Konstanty Gałczyński

He wasn’t there, and Mrs Natalia [Gałczyński's wife] complained that she’d like to take Konstanty [Gałczyński's first name] as far away from holiday pals, she was worried about his heart after the heart attack. I proposed to organize a summer in Mazury for them, where the nearest pub is 13km across the forest. I telegraphed Popowski, he responded quickly – he agreed. Gałczyński came with Ms Natalia, Kira and Jerzy Zagórski’s grandson. We drove them with Popowski on old German motor boats through the, at the time, completely virgin Mazury, from Ruciane to Pranie. Gałczyński had his revelation, it was so beautiful. You can also see how much he wrote in Mazury. And the ways we had fun in Pranie: during dinner he was the governor, I was the special task official, and we changed roles on the following day. We wrote together an anthem for USSR  according to Saltykov-Shchedrin, but alas, I only remember the last line: “Remember, citizens, don’t think!” [in Russian]. As a talented man, Gałczyński was not even a bit jealous about other poets. He was happy when someone wrote something good.

Żebrowska: What does friendship with a great poet look like, do you have to praise him?

Fedecki: Both Gałczyński, and Pasternak, when we were in closer relationships, asked for honest remarks about their work. I had to vow that I would tell what I really thought. Gałczyński gave me his “Wit Stwosz” to read. I adore Gałczyński, but I think “Wit Stwosz” is rather average. As a result result, he didn’t talk to me for over a month. I was one of the first readers of Doctor Zhivago and it bored me to death, I used to make coffee to stay awake. I told Pasternak that this is revolution seen through a window vent of his cabin in Peredelkino. As a 23 year old pup I would never dare to review it like this, but since he made me vow? Pasternak listened, went upstairs and didn’t come downstairs for dinner. I packed my things (I was staying at his place in Peredelkino for holidays) and I started my goodbyes. He ran down the stairs: “Please stay, if you leave, then I will be really offended!”

Żebrowska: Everyone loves criticism in superlatives.

Fedecki: In this respect Iwaszkiewicz was an extraordinary person. Twice I didn’t print his poems from “Twórczość” [Creativity], where he was editor-in-chief and my boss, not to mention that he was the president of the Writers’ association. After Gagarin died, he wrote the poem “To Gagarin’s daughters.” I told him, that it’s a greater loss when a drunk motorcycle driver hits and kills Ms Kowalska standing at a bus stop. Her daughters don’t even get any compensation. For Gagarin it was an occupational risk. He only asked “Really, is it so bad? Throw it out, then.”

Żebrowska: How do you look at “Doctor Zhivago” these days?

Fedecki:The same. If a writer wants to focus on revolution, he needs to get to know it up close, like Babel. Pasternak spent his most stormy years keeping a warm job. He knew all European languages, and since all the NSZ [National Armed Forces] officials ran after the revolution, he translated diplomatic correspondence. And that’s very good, because he received barley, pork fat, his family didn’t starve.  For a novel, however, he didn’t have enough material. Apart from that, he accepted the pointless theory, that one has to write like Lev Tolstoi. “Isn’t it enough that you write like Pasternak?” I asked. Doctor Zhivago did not become a point of reference in the history of literature. Babel’s Red Cavalry is something different, or Zoshchenko’s stories – without them, our picture of Russia would be incomplete.

Żebrowska: Actually, how did you meet Pasternak?

Fedecki: We went to Peredelkino with Jerzy Pomianowski and  Zivov, a translator from Polish.  Zivov was his friend, Pomianowski was publishing an anthology of Russian poetry and had some business [in going], and I just really wanted to meet him.

Jerzy Pomianowski

Jerzy Pomianowski

Already at the beginning Pasternak said: “Stalin, this bandit…” We heard a snap – Zivov fainted. Pomianowski, who graduated from a medical school, told us to put him on a couch. Later it turned out that  Zivov fainted every time Pasternak talked about Stalin in the presence of unfamiliar people. He was afraid that the foreigners, unaware of anything would tell in Moscow what the poet was saying about the leader and that the powers that be would use him as a witness. He didn’t want to hurt Pasternak, so he fainted not to hear anything.

Żebrowska: Were the poems in which Pasternak glorified the USSR written sincerely?

Fedecki: Half-half, I think. In the USSR  their system of values was out of balance, at the border of split personality. In the poem “Visokaya bolezn” Pasternak gave a real picture of Russia bathed in blood, and three pages further he was writing a pean to honour Lenin… I love early Pasternak, but his volume “Vtoroe Rozhdenie” [Second Birth] – how he felt like newly born after the revolution – is a failure. Or take a look at this statement: ” The soul is leaving the West, She has nothing to do there “. It is funny when Rilke’s friend and constant correspondent calls the West soulless!

Żebrowska: Apart from Pasternak you promoted in Poland also the work of the Oberiuts [Absurdists], Okudzhava, and Trifonov. Did any of these publications cause a storm like Doctor Zhivago?

Fedecki: There was a hell of an argument after Okudzhava’s  “You will live”. The ZLP [Association of Polish Writers] received a series of denunciations, Iwaszkiewicz every few days would say, “Come, dear Ziemek, we have a new denunciation thingy for you”. In USSR the story appeared in the provincial “Tarusskie Stranicy”, and most of the circulation was destroyed, Okudzhava was blamed for pacifism and other sins.  And we published it boldly, in a separate issue. Thanks to the Polish edition Bulat [Okudzhava] became known internationally. I convinced a German translator to prepare a translation, he didn’t know Russian very well, I helped him. In German Okudzhava was read and translated into Swedish, French. Trifonov went to France and also through Poland.

Żebrowska: Russian fates…

Fedecki: I’ll tell you a different story from our battle with cosmopolitism. Molotov’s wife was arrested, Mikhoels was murdered, the Jewish Theater was disbanded, the leader of the Jewish Anti-Fascist movement Solomon Lozovsky was executed… And then Literaturnaia Gazeta publishes a regime critic saying that idealism is the weapon of world capitalism, and Pasternak is an idealist. You can guess the rest of the reasoning. In the evening, without any appointment, Pasternak’s friends met at his place. I went there too. Pasternak was dressed elegantly, English style. Wine was served in green glasses, no one mentioned the article. At midnight we heard knocking on the door, which might have meant arrest, everyone froze. Pasternak straightened his jacket and opened the door.  The author of the article opened the door and kneeled, weeping “Forgive me Boria!” Pasternak did not accept the apologies, he only said with disdain, “Better have some wine,” everyone returned to the previous conversation. The critic mooched around for a bit and left silently.

Żebrowska: Real Dostoevsky material.

Fedecki: The critic was an ultrasonofabitch and at the same time he adored tied words. He had a priceless collection of XXth century Russian poetry, our common friend secretly copied some unavailable poems from it for me. He collected books with authors’ signatures, he loved Pasternak, but whenever the powers that be wished so, he could publicly accuse anyone of anything. During the critic’s funeral, when the casket entered the furnace, one of the attendees said: “It smells of fried dastard”.

Żebrowska: Are you happy about reality nowadays?

Fedecki: Not so much, I was raised in the spirit of tolerance, which I think died in Poland. In our village for holidays, the guests usually were: my uncle, colonel doctor Krzywiec, fanatically anti-Soviet and well noted in Rome, strongly communistic Henryk Dembiński and atheistic youth from “Poprostu”, priests Śledziewski (specialist in Wilno’s baroque) and Marcinkowski (Polish studies), music teacher Załkind, Jew, and Jasienica’s cousins – Gienia and Zosia Tatarkówna. The meeting was patronized by my grandmother, who grew up in a convent. Such different people sat at the same table and I remember no issue, no disrespect. Back then people thought that if a person is decent, that’s enough.

Zhivago in Poland

At the beginning of April, I went to give a talk in philosophy of mathematics at the University of Krakow at the behest of my colleague Tomasz Placek. Tomasz had been aware of my interests on the history of Doctor Zhivago since I had consulted him for the translation of some editorial remarks in the first Polish edition of Doctor Zhivago. Not surprisingly we came back to the topic of the history of Zhivago and Tomasz told me that he had been involved in a distribution operation of a Polish version of Doctor Zhivago in the early eighties. In fact, he was later awarded a medal for his work in the underground. My curiosity was piqued and I asked which edition they had distributed. He could not recall the precise details but was quite definite that it was an edition printed in Poland. This I found quite surprising as I was unaware of any edition printed in Poland before the fall of the USSR. He promised he would track down the book, which he eventually found in his sister’s house. It was an edition I had never seen before printed in Poland in 1983. To my delight, Tomasz was even able to find me a copy of the book which was generously offered to me by his university colleagues Jola and Milowit Kunisnki. I want to thank them all for their generosity. I would also like to thank another philosopher of mathematics, Rafal Urbaniak, for having kindly translated an interview from Polish featuring Ziemowit Fedecki (1923-2009): some passages will be quoted in this post and the next post will give the full interview (the interview, by Anna Żebrowska, appeared in 2003 in the issue 46 of Przeglad; for the original Polish text see http://www.przeglad-tygodnik.pl/pl/artykul/cieniu-doktora-zywago)

While the first complete edition of Doctor Zhivago came out in Italian in November 1957, the first extensive excerpts from the novel came out in Poland in August 1957 in the journal Opinie, a literary quarterly that had been founded with the aim of presenting Polish readers with the most interesting recent developments in Soviet literature.

Opinie, First issue, 1957

Opinie, First issue, 1957

The editorial board consisted of Ziemowit Fedecki, Wanda Padwa, Seweryn Pollak, and Andrzej Stawar. The excerpts from Doctor Zhivago were translated by Maria Mongirdowa. The published passages were illustrated with beautiful drawings by Włodzimierz Faworski. This issue of Opinie also contained selections from Mandelstam, Tsvetaeva, Yashin, and Babel. The extensive selection published in Opinie (about 30 pages) indicated that a full translation of the book was being undertaken.

But how did Opinie get hold of Doctor Zhivago? The text came from a copy of the typescript given by Pasternak to Ziemowit Fedecki. Fedecki had known Pasternak since 1945 when he was in Moscow as a cultural attaché of the Polish Embassy. The description of his first visit to Pasternak is too amusing not to be quoted:

Interviewer: – Actually, how did you meet Pasternak?

Fedecki: We went to Peredelkino with Jerzy Pomianowski and  Zivov, a translator from Polish.  Zivov was his friend, Pomianowski was publishing an anthology of Russian poetry and had some business [in going], and I just really wanted to meet him. Already at the beginning Pasternak said: “Stalin, this bandit…” We heard a snap – Zivov fainted. Pomianowski, who graduated from a medical school, told us to put him on a couch. Later it turned out that  Zivov fainted every time Pasternak talked about Stalin in the presence of unfamiliar people. He was afraid that the foreigners, unaware of anything would tell in Moscow what the poet was saying about the leader and that the powers that be would use him as a witness. He didn’t want to hurt Pasternak, so he fainted not to hear anything. 

The editorial note accompanying the excerpts of Doctor Zhivago in Opinie

The editorial note accompanying the excerpts of Doctor Zhivago in Opinie

As to the date when exactly Pasternak gave Fedecki a copy of his typescript (which is still owned by Fedecki’s widow) we have a good terminus ad quem given in a letter from Pasternak to the Italian scholar Angelo Maria Ripellino. The letter is dated August 17, 1956, and in it Pasternak advises Ripellino to contact Fedecki to arrange to see the typescript:

But since you know Fedecki, address your request to him. Unfortunately, I do not have his address; otherwise, I would have written to him myself. Ask him to somehow find a way to get the manuscript to you; he has a copy of the complete text. I would have been less upset by a complete miscomprehension and misunderstanding of all my work than his being blindsided by argument of precaution, concerns about my well-being, and his complete blindness about what is idling on his bookshelf without any utility for anyone.

It is safe to assume that Fedecki must have received his typescript soon after May 1956, that is only a little time after d’Angelo was given the typescript for Feltrinelli. Indeed, there is a recollection of the meeting given by Wiktor Woroszylski who was also present. It not only helps with dating the event in May 1956 but it also shows that Boris and his wife Zinaida were at odds on the issue of handing the typescript to foreigners. Woroszylski writes:

An illustration by Faworski (from a cycle on Dante's Vita Nuova) used to illustrate the excerpts of Zhivago in Opinie.

A drawing by Faworski (from a cycle on Dante’s Vita Nuova) used to illustrate the excerpts of Zhivago in Opinie.

It was May 1956 … we got off at a small station and started off walking down the wood sleepers and then later turned off, bumbling along on a boggy road past a birch meadow and cemetery on a hill with a small white church at the top. … ‘This is more important, than poems. I have worked on this for a long time,’ [Pasternak] said, handing Yaromir [Ziemowit Fedecki] two thick, bound folios. We looked at the doorway – in it, Zinaida Nikolaevna was standing, tall, massive, slightly hunched over. We did not hear her walk it, but felt her presence. She looked at Yaromir with displeasure: ‘You must know that I am against this! Boris Leonidovich is suffering from thoughtlessness: yesterday he gave a copy to the Italians, today to you. He does not realize the danger and I must look after him.’ ‘But, Zinaida Nikolaevna,’ the poet replied, ‘everything has changed. It is about time to forget about fears and live normally. And then, the book will soon be available here – they have promised me.’ ‘I am against it,’ Zinaida Nikolaevna repeated dryly. And yet, Yaromir did not show any desire to part with the thing that he was now holding in his hands. (Woroszylski, 1977, p. 49; cited also in Wójciak-Marek 2009, pp. 152-153; translated from the latter)

If the reference to the handing over of the typescripts to the Italians is correct, then the meeting with Fedecki took place on May 21, 1956. Fedecki himself was not a great fan of Doctor Zhivago and this perhaps explains the despondent words that Pasternak wrote to Ripellino about the fate of his typescript in Poland. We get more information about Fedecki’s attitude in a long interview titled “In the shadow of Doctor Zhivago” (see next post for the full interview). Fedecki says:

I was one of the first readers of Doctor Zhivago and it bored me to death, I used to make coffee to stay awake. I told Pasternak that this is revolution seen through a window vent of his cabin in Peredelkino. As a 23 year old pup I would never dare to review it like this, but since he made me vow [Pasternak had asked Fedecki to vow that he would be completely honest in his criticism]? Pasternak listened, went upstairs and didn’t come downstairs for dinner. I packed my things (I was staying at his place in Peredelkino for holidays) and I started my goodbyes. He ran down the stairs: “Please stay, if you leave, then I will be really offended!”

This must have been in 1946 when the novel was still unfinished. But in 1956 Pasternak gave Fedecki the finished product. And contrary to Pasternak’s suspicions, the typescript was not idle.

An illustration by Faworski (from a cycle on Dante's Vita Nuova) used to illustrate the excerpts of Zhivago in Opinie.

A drawing by Faworski (from a cycle on Dante’s Vita Nuova) used to illustrate the excerpts of Zhivago in Opinie.

Indeed, the issue of Opinie in which the Zhivago selections appeared in 1957 became a source of great annoyance and anxiety for the Soviets. That issue (50,000 copies) had sold out in no time. But how had this publication been possible? Here is from Fedecki’s interview again:

Interviewer: I browsed the first issue of the quarterly Opinie. Apart from Pasternak, there were quite a few authors at that time prohibited in USSR: Babel, Mandelstam, Tsvetaeva. How come this could appear in 1957?

Fedecki: – Diplomatic manouvers. We applied for funding at TPPR [Polish-Soviet Friendship Society], which later ran into troubles because of that. What’s worse, we started cooperating with Władysław Siła-Nowicki, who just got out of a UB [Polish Secret Police] prison – he reviewed books for us. But Opinie was the only periodic of TPPR that disappeared from news stalls in two days.

Interviewer: – I can imagine the reaction in USSR.

 Fedecki: – Literaturnaia Gazeta published a piece “Whose opinions are these?” (Western revisionists’, they discovered). The eulogist of “a real man”, Boris Polevoi, petitioned for a “social” trial of the editorial board. They wrote about me that I’m a perfidious exhumator of pseudoliterature [Actually, this occurs in a second article published by Literaturnaia Gazeta, titled Trojan's horse, where one finds Polevoi's attack against Fedecki]. For a long period I was not sent to Moscow, they stopped inviting me for movies at the Russian embassy. Opinie appeared only twice, but in the second issue the censorship’s interference was so strong that with Pollak we refused to sign it.

The journal had been shut down following a Soviet intervention that is now chronicled in detail in the documents from the archive of the Central Committee published in Le Dossier de l’Affaire Zhivago (Gallimard 1994) and Boris Pasternak i Vlast’ (Rosspen 2001). Here is how D. Polikarpov, director of the department of culture, informed the Central Committee of the CPSU on August 30, 1957:

Central Committee of the CPSU

Krakow’s weekly Zycie Literackie [Literary life] of August 18, 1957 gives news of the beginning of publication of a quarterly journal titled Opinie [Opinion], dedicated to issues of Soviet culture. The first issue has just been released. Judging from the selection of works published in this first edition, the quarterly Opinie has a direction hostile to us.  Under the pretext of informing “in all honesty”, the editors have taken the course of publishing books which contain “questions of painful historical revisions” and praising ideologically corrupt books, which come under sharp criticism in our country. Among the works of Soviet authors published in the journal we find Yashin’s Levers as well as excerpts of the unpublished anti-Soviet novel by Pasternak, Doctor Zhivago. Given the foregoing, the Department of Culture of the Central Committee would consider it necessary to charge the Soviet ambassador in Poland to draw the attention of our Polish comrades to the unfriendly nature of the journal Opinie and to suggest to them, in a suitable fashion, that a critical statement on the part of the Polish communist press regarding the positions taken up by the journal Opinie, as well as the suspension of further publication of Pasternak’s work, would be received very favorably by Soviet public opinion. It will also be prudent to recommend to the Secretariat of the Soviet Writers’ Union and to the editorial board of Literaturnaia Gazeta to organize, as soon as they will have received the quarterly journal, the publication of an open letter by a group of prominent Soviet writers that will subject to criticism the positions taken by this journal. And to send this letter to the Polish press for publication, including the editorial board of the journal Opinie. Awaiting instructions. Text of the telegram to the Soviet ambassador in Warsaw is enclosed.

Director of the Department of Culture

Polikarpov

Administrative Inspector

E. Trushchenko      

A note appended on September 30, 1957, written by B. Riurikov, deputy director of the department of culture, stated “The necessary measures regarding this issue have been taken”. And taken they were. A thirty-page summary of the contents of the journal, together with a copy of the journal, were sent to the Central Committee on September 7, 1957. Polikarpov sent a telegram to the Soviet ambassador to Poland and encouraged the ambassador to draw the attention of “our friends” to the “tendencies hostile to the USSR of the journal Opinie”. The telegram invited the ambassador “to make our friends understand that the Soviet public opinion would know how to value the suspension of the publication of Pasternak’s novel as well as a critical declaration on the part of the Polish Communist Press concerning the positions of the journal Opinie“. The ambassador did his job well, since Opinie was suspended. The vitriolic article already mentioned, titled “Whose opinion is it?”, appeared in Literaturnaia Gazeta of September 18, 1957 (there was also a second article in the same journal against Fedecki).

Ziemowit Fedecki

Ziemowit Fedecki

Meanwhile, Pollak had signed a contract for the publication of Doctor Zhivago with Panstwowy Instytut Wydawniczy. Needless to say, the contract was revoked:

Interviewer: A few people harboured a grudge against you, because you didn’t publish the whole of Doctor Zhivago.

Fedecki: For God’s sake, it was mid-50s, there were no private publishers or secondary circulation.  In the journal Opinie [Opinions] we could only publish part of the story, which we did one year before the Nobel prize and it was the first publication in the world. The translator, Ms Maria Mongirdowa, fell ill and died. I passed it on to Seweryn Pollak, who signed a contract with PIW [Panstwowy Instytut Wydawniczy]. In the West no one cared about the piece until Pasternak got the Nobel prize. And in Poland we couldn’t publish a book considered to be anti-soviet, whose author was expelled from the [Soviet] writers’ association. When they later called Pollak from PIW they were even afraid to mention the title of the piece: “Mr Seweryn, we have a contract with you for this piece, you know which one. Please do not refund us the advance, and in general, we won’t talk about it.” Perhaps, Herling-Grudziński [Gustaw Herling], who wrote that “Doctor Zhivago” did not appear because of Fedecki’s pettiness, has not heard of censorship in PRL [Polish People's Republic], but a few people still remember it.

It appears that the decision of the PIW was taken as a consequence of a memo circulated by the Polish Ministry for Culture and Art that forbade throughout Poland the distribution and the printing of texts of Soviet authors that were unpublished in the USSR. In addition, according to the editors of Pasternak i vlast’, the editors of Opinie were summoned to Moscow for the “necessary conversations”.

And this sealed the fate of the publication of Doctor Zhivago inside Poland. But if publication could not be achieved in Poland, forces outside Poland soon began planning a Polish edition abroad. That story will be recounted in one of the next posts where I will present the history of the printed Polish editions of Doctor Zhivago.

Sources:

Afiani, V. I., Tomilina, N. G., eds., A za mnoiu shum pogoni: Boris Pasternak i vlastʹ: dokumenty 1956-1972, ROSSPĖN, Moskva, 2001.

Le Dossier de l’Affaire Pasternak, Archives du Comité Central et du Politburo, Préface de Jacqueline de Proyart, Gallimard, Paris, 1994.

In the shadow of “Doctor Zhivago”, Interview with Fedecki by Anna Żebrowska, Przeglad, 46, 2003 [full interview in the next post]

Wójciak-Marek, M., [in Russian] Pasternak i Pol’sha: Pervaia publikatsiia Doktora Zhivago, in L. Fleishmann, ed. The life of Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago, Stanford, 2009, pp. 142- 155.

Woroszylsky, W., Literatura. Powiesc, Instytut Literacki, Paris, 1977

Three lectures on Inside the Zhivago Storm

In the summer of 2013, Guido Tendas, the mayor of my home town (Oristano, Sardinia), got wind of the forthcoming book and discussed with me the possibility of organizing a special event in Oristano.

Poster by AR Grafica

Poster by AR Grafica

His idea was to combine the event with an award (“Stella d’argento città di Oristano”) that the city of Oristano now bestows on those citizens who have distinguished themselves in their careers. I was of course quite flattered but I also insisted that what we should offer in the first place was something of substance related to the book.

It was soon decided that we should invite Carlo Feltrinelli as one of the speakers. In addition, we thought of adding to the program Giacomo Mameli, Antonio Pinna and, for the musical entertainment, the Tenores di Neoneli, one of the most well-known groups of tenores in the world (and personal friends, I should add). Everyone accepted and the event took place on February 28 at the Teatro Garau in Oristano.

It was a touching moment for me. I saw friends whom I had not seen in many many years and this was a splendid occasion to renew old acquaintances and meet new people. The music of the tenores, with its centuries-old Mediterranean polyphonies was incredibly touching and sharing this moment with my family and friends made it very special.

But the event also cemented my friendship with Carlo Feltrinelli, the inspirator and publisher of Inside the Zhivago Storm. More about him in a different post.

From left to right: Tenores di Neoneli (standing), A. Pinna, C. Feltrinelli, G. Tendas, P. Mancosu. (Photo by G. Mameli)

From left to right: Tenores di Neoneli (standing), A. Pinna, C. Feltrinelli, G. Tendas, P. Mancosu. (Photo by G. Mameli)

I gave two more talks on Zhivago in spring 2014. On April 8, I presented the book at the invitation of Professor Stefano Garzonio in the Department of Lingue e Letterature Straniere at the University of Pisa. The other presentation was at the Center for Advanced Study in Munich on April 29. This lecture inaugurated the Berkeley lectures at LMU (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität). Insight LMU (second issue of 2014, pp. 1-2) has a short article in English on the event (click here). For those who read German, the Münchner Uni Magazin devotes a three page article to it (no. 3, 2014, pp. 18-20; for a pdf of the issue click here).

Meeting Sergio d’Angelo

Pasternak described the story of the publication of Doctor Zhivago as “the novel about the novel”.

Sergio d'Angelo in the Soviet Union (1956)

Sergio d’Angelo in the Soviet Union (1957)

One of the protagonists of that story is Sergio d’Angelo and my book, accordingly, devotes quite a bit of attention to his role. Most importantly, d’Angelo was the person who physically received the manuscript of Doctor Zhivago from Pasternak on May 20, 1956 and handed it over to Feltrinelli a week later in West Berlin. At the time d’Angelo was employed at the Italian section of Radio Moscow and was also acting as Feltrinelli’s literary scout in the Soviet Union. In late April 1956 he happened to read a piece of news from the central office of Radio Moscow announcing the imminent publication of Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago. He made a note to himself in a notebook he used to keep a record of interesting publications to bring to the attention of the Feltrinelli publishing house (see picture below) .

Having informed the publishing house about this possible scoop, he received the go ahead from Milan and went to visit Pasternak on May 20, 1956. It was the beginning of “the novel about the novel”.

D'Angelo's notebook (April 1956)

D’Angelo’s notebook (April 1956)

D’Angelo’s role in the story goes well beyond this initial encounter with Pasternak. He remained very close to Pasternak and Olga during his stay in Moscow and even after he went back to Italy (in December 1957). During 1959 and 1960 he was instrumental in the scheme, approved by Pasternak, to deliver some of the Zhivago royalties to Pasternak. This was done through couriers, usually members of the Italian Communist Party visiting Moscow.

The last of these deliveries of rubles in August 1960 (hence two months after Pasternak’s death in May 1960), was ill-fated, because it gave the Soviets an excuse for prosecuting and condemning Olga and her daughter Irina to eight and three years, respectively, of hard labor camp. This led in 1961 to an international campaign in favor of the two women to which d’Angelo participated with an open letter to Surkov, Pasternak’s irreducible enemy in the Soviet Writers’ Union, and with a private letter to Khrushchev.

Finally, Sergio d’Angelo was involved in a protracted legal battle against Feltrinelli concerning Pasternak’s royalties which began in 1965 and went on for several years. Some of these aspects of d’Angelo’s role have been analyzed in my book and d’Angelo provides his first-hand account of the facts in his captivating book Il Caso Pasternak (Bietti, 2006) that can be downloaded in English from his website http://www.pasternakbydangelo.com/

Il Caso Pasternak (Bietti 2006)

Il Caso Pasternak (Bietti 2006)

I had tried to contact Sergio d’Angelo when I was writing my book but he had changed email and my attempt was unsuccessful. I was thus very happy when I got an email from him on January 18, 2014, in which he congratulated me on Inside the Zhivago Storm. This quickly led to an intense exchange of emails, for this was a splendid opportunity to clarify many things that I would have gladly asked him while I was writing the book. Quickly it was resolved that I should go and visit him in his town close to Viterbo, San Martino al Cimino. I went to visit him on February 22. In addition to being a most generous host, he had also prepared for me all the documents in his possession that related to his involvement in the Zhivago affair. There were unpublished autographed letters by Pasternak and by Olga, drafts of d’Angelo’s letters to them, the notebook where he had jotted down the news of the impending publication of Doctor Zhivago, and many other important documents. I was thrilled and even more so as Sergio allowed me to take pictures of all these materials and to use them in my further research on the Zhivago story. We spoke for eight hours. We did not always agree on the interpretation of the events, but that was part of the fun, for while Sergio is a man of strong opinions, he also respects the fact that one might take different stands in interpreting such complex events as those that made up the odyssey of Zhivago. During my visit, he also brought up his desire to donate his papers to an international institution where scholars would be able to consult them. This he has since done by donating all his materials on the Zhivago affair to the Hoover Institution Archive at Stanford.

Meeting Sergio d’Angelo was a delightful experience. Given his role in the Zhivago story, one can’t get any closer to the eye of the Zhivago storm.

The book in the Italian press

Given that the book was published by Feltrinelli, the Italian press was the first to review it. I will say more in a later post about reviews in the international press (such as the one in the New York Review of Books). Here is a list of the Italian reviews. They can be downloaded as a single file by clicking here.

Il Sole 24 Ore (October 13, 2013)

La Nuova Sardegna (November 17, 2013)

Avvenire (November 20, 2013)

Corriere della Sera (November 20, 2013)

Il Giorno/Il Resto del Carlino/La Nazione (November 21, 2103)

L’Unione Sarda (November 27, 2013)

Corriere dell Sera (December 6, 2013)

Alias (Il Manifesto) (December 15, 2013)

Il Venerdì di Repubblica (December 27, 2013)

L’Espresso (January 23, 2014)

La Nuova Sardegna (February 28, 2013)

It all started with a lucky find at Moe’s

I often get asked how I got involved in writing a book on Doctor Zhivago. It all started with a lucky finding at Moe’s, a wonderful used bookstore in Berkeley owned by Doris Moskowitz. When Doris found out about the story she asked me to write something for Moe’s blog. You can read the original post (dated December 3, 2013) by clicking here but I will also report a shortened version of the text below, as you might enjoy the story (I hope I will be forgiven the use of “serendipidy” both in my previous post and in what I wrote for Moe’s back in December; but I think the events fully justify the repetition). As you will see the lucky find was a first edition of the Russian Zhivago published by the University of Michigan Press which I bought for $20. Once I told people at Moe’s the story, they put a yellow sticker on their computers saying: “Careful when pricing first editions of the Russian Zhivago”. Below is a picture of the second edition, which has an interesting dust jacket (the first edition did not have a dust jacket).

The dust jacket of the second Michigan edition of Doktor Zhivago (1959)

The dust jacket of the second Michigan edition of Doktor Zhivago (1959)

Here is the shortened text from Moe’s blog:

I do not exaggerate when I say that Moe’s has been a key element of my Berkeley experience since the time I moved here in 1995. I cannot think of another used bookstore anywhere in the world, and I have visited many of them, that compares in quality to Moe’s. In addition to being a “trading zone” –namely a place where people with different languages, products and expectations interact and exchange goods and ideas – a constant renewal of the stock and fair prices keep bringing me back as a faithful customer. Of the many books I bought at Moe’s, the chance encounter with one of them in particular can truly be described as a case of “serendipity”. 

About three years ago I began studying Russian again, a language I had studied in the late 1980s and early 1990s but which I had not continued to practice on account of more pressing commitments. As I often do when I start a  new project, I began buying some books in the area and this is how I stumbled, in November 2011, on a copy of Doctor Zhivago in Russian for sale at Moe’s. I paid $20 for it without knowing exactly what I was buying. Once at home, I decided to check on line booksellers  just to get some information about the edition and its value on the market. I thus discovered that I had bought the first official edition of the Russian text published by the University of Michigan Press. I was stunned when I saw that some booksellers were selling it for $5000. Intrigued by the history of the book, I discovered that the first worldwide edition had come out in Italian in 1957 for the publisher Feltrinelli. It was through an agreement with Feltrinelli, who owned the copyright for Doctor Zhivago, that the University of Michigan press had published the Russian text in early 1959 (the copy I had bought!). I thus began reading more about the publication history of Doctor Zhivago and the more I read the more I wanted to know. I was puzzled by a few aspects of the publishing history and my research became more serious, eventually leading me to work in American, European, and Russian archives. 

In the course of this research, I was also given access, for the first time, to the Feltrinelli archives in Milan, which were invaluable for reconstructing what is certainly the most complex literary-political case of the twentieth century.  The publication history of Doctor Zhivago features Pasternak, Feltrinelli (one of the richest men in Italy at the time and a member of the Italian Communist Party), the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, The Italian Communist Party, the KGB, the CIA, and countless other characters. All of this, and much more, is recounted in detail in my book “Inside the Zhivago Storm. The editorial adventures of Pasternak’s masterpiece” (Feltrinelli, Milan, 2013), which is the outcome of that serendipitous encounter with the Russian Zhivago at Moe’s.
I offer the above comments as an expression of gratitude for Moe’s unique and irreplaceable role in our community.

Paolo Mancosu

The first set of corrections of the Feltrinelli Russian Zhivago: a serendipitous discovery

SAM_3629 p. 263

Corrections by Vera Popova to p. 263 of Feltrinelli’s first edition of the Russian Zhivago.

As mentioned in the previous post, the presentation of my book took place in Milan on November 20, 2013. Just before the event began I was approached by a very nice lady who had brought with her a first Feltrinelli edition of the Russian Zhivago (published in May 1959). She showed it to me and I was immediately intrigued by the numerous corrections to the Russian that were penciled throughout the text. I suspected that the corrections might be important to the editorial history of the Zhivago. As there was no time to talk we agreed to meet on the following day. When I went to visit Ms. Schiaffino (that is her name) in her apartment in the center of Milan, she told me how she came to own the book. It was given as a present to her husband by Danilo Montaldi who had worked as French translator at the Feltrinelli publishing house. She did not know how Montaldi had come to own the book. I decided to take pictures of all the pages containing corrections, approximately 250 pages out of 566. Once I examined the corrections it was evident that they were not as extensive as the set of corrections that Mme de Proyart had sent to Feltrinelli in July 1959 and which I describe at length in my book. But I did notice that there were a couple of comments in French and after a few months I decided to send some of the pictures to Mme de Proyart to see whether she had any inkling of who might have been responsible for such an extended set of corrections. My original conjecture was that this was the work of a Russian reader inside the Feltrinelli publishing house and that this set of corrections was the one that convinced Feltrinelli that a second edition of the Russian text was necessary. It turns out that I was closer to the truth than I suspected. Mme de Proyart wrote me back confirming that she and Vera Popova made the pencil corrections in the copy of the book in the late Spring 1959. These corrections were at the basis of the later, more extensive, set of corrections that she handed to Feltrinelli in July 1959. I was able to also confirm the intervention of Vera Popova in several remarks in the book which read “d’après V.P.” The picture above shows a long missing piece of the text at the beginning of Chapter VIII in the handwriting of Vera Popova.

I add Mme de Proyart’s explanations concerning the two handwritings present in the text and her further comments about Vera Aleksandrovna Popova:

“Les corrections dans une écriture plutôt ronde sont les miennes avec un “d” écrit “à la grecque” et pas  comme un “g”. L’écriture plus pointue  comme au-dessus du chapitre “Priezd” p. 263, sont celle de ma vieille amie russe , une moscovite de vieille souche “marchande”, (fabricants de “feutre”)  et “mécène” Vera Alexandrovna Popova. Elle pratiquait la “vieille foi” d’une manière à la fois très stricte et pleine de gaîeté. Elle était sculptrice. Son père lui avait acheté un appartement de peintre à Paris et elle avait donc un toit quand elle a décidé de  s’exiler en 1923. Elle était allée voir Tchekhov avec ses parents à Melkhovo tandis que l’amie qu’elle avait qu’elle avait fait venir chez elle et avec laquelle elle allait partager son existence  avait terminé à la fois le conservatoire (chant) et la faculté des lettres. On ne pouvait pas faire plus proche du milieu “Jivago”. En France Vera gagna longtemps sa vie en travaillant pour Djaguilev et les ballets de Monte-Carlo. Elle avait pour amies N Gontcharova et Exter. Elle a vendu ses mémoires à l’université de Columbia. C’est avec elles que j’ai appris le russe et surtout la Russie. Je ne pouvais pas trouver personne plus compétente pour corriger le texte fautif. Cela a été épique car je venais de faire une très mauvaise chute de ski avec  ’apophyse d’une vertèbre casée et je devais faire de longues séances allongée sur le plancher et je ne pouvais pas toujours écrire les corrections . C’était alors Vera Aleksandrovna qui les écrivait” (email message to Paolo Mancosu dated February 12, 2014)

In May 2014 I visited the Bakhmeteff archives at Columbia University to consult Popova’s memoirs. Unfortunately, the story of her family stops at the 1920s and the manuscript does not contain anything related to the work she did with Mme de Proyart in correcting the text.