Leonid Tsypkin: Лето в Бадене (Summer in Baden-Baden)
It’s not really a novel but a musing on Dostoevsky and his marriage to Anna Grigoryevna. The narrator is a contemporary Russian, mainly on a train journey, and he considers the life and work of Dostoevsky but, in particular, his marriage, his gambling in Baden-Baden, his rabid anti-Semitism and his death.
Clearly the narrator has considerable admiration for Dostoevsky. Reference is made to other Russian writers (including Dostoevsky’s own views), including Turgenev, Goncharov, Pushkin and Tolstoy. Indeed, many of these writers appear in person, with Dostoevsky’s withering attack on Turgenev being the most interesting. However, as a husband, Dostoevsky was less than perfect. Anna Grigoryevna bore the brunt of the work to do and not just the standard woman’s tasks but dealing with money, landladies and the like. Dostoevsky was an inveterate gambler and his experiences were the basis for his novella The Gambler. In this story he frequently has a hunch and bets away their last money, leaving poor Anna Grigoryevna to find some more.
While Dostoevsky may not have liked Jews, he didn’t seem to like many others nationalities. In this book, he frequently berates the Germans and was a committed pan-Slavist. Yet, despite his apparent lack of love of humanity, one of his faults is his alms-giving. Anyone who asks, gets, even if his wife and children are starving. His wife is so annoyed that one day she disguises herself and her children as beggars and begs some money from him. When they reveal their identities, Dostoevsky is furious.
Most of this novel is such anecdotes but told with such affection, even though the narrator has many qualms about Dostoevsky the human being, that it really works. The narrator only intervenes occasionally – comparisons between Dostoevsky’s St. Petersburg and the Leningrad of the narrator and the exile of Dostoevsky and that of Solzhenitsyn – focusing more on Dostoevsky and his life. A novel? Perhaps not, but well worth reading.
First published in 1982 by Novyy Americanets, New York
First English translation in 1987 by Quartet