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Samarskaya Gazeta: “Alexei Tolstoy Hooliganized the Text as Best He Could” - Mikhail Perepelkin

Samarskaya Gazeta: “Alexei Tolstoy Hooliganized the Text as Best He Could” - Mikhail Perepelkin

Самарский университет

A book about the famous writer was presented in Samara

10.01.2023 2023-03-13
Alexei Nikolayevich Tolstoy was born on January 10, 1883. Shortly before the 140th anniversary of the great Russian writer, Mikhail Perepelkin, senior researcher at the Gorky Literary Memorial Museum, scholar in local history, Professor of the Department of Russian and Foreign Literature and Public Relations at Samara University, presented his new book. It is called “Walkers on the Road to Calvary: The Samara Code in A. N. Tolstoy’s Trilogy” (12+). The monograph was presented to public in several stages. On December 10 and 24 — in the Krupskaya Library, and on December 29 — in the regional Universal Scientific Library. In January, the presentation will take place at the mansion of Alexei Tolstoy.
The weighty volume of 700 pages can be discussed for a long time without repetition. At the first meeting, Perepelkin talked about illustrations, because “we can read the letters but the picture is mute”.
The mystery of inconsistencies
“My acquaintance with the novel “The Road to Calvary” (12+) began with the 1970s movie featuring the beautiful Irina Alferova and Yuri Solomin. As a student, I read the novel, but briefly, just to pass the exam. The real encounter with the text came later, when 25 years ago I joined the service of the literary museum.
My work there began with rereading ten volumes by Alexei Tolstoy, from beginning to end. I saw a lot of inconsistencies in the pages of “The Road to Calvary” trilogy. For example, the detachment turns “from Sadovaya to Dvoryanskaya, past the ridiculously luxurious mansion of the merchant Kurlina”. But there are five streets between Sadovaya and Dvoryanskaya (now Kuibysheva), and the mansion stands at the corner of today’s Krasnoarmeiskaya and Frunze streets (formerly Alekseevskaya and Saratovskaya).
I approached my senior colleagues, the director of the museum and a devoted Tolstovite Andrei Gennadyevich Romanov. I asked, “How come there are these inconsistencies?” And they said, “Alexei Tolstoy wrote this many years after he lived in Samara, he simply forgot.” “How come,” I thought to myself. “Having long left the place where I was born and lived for the first fifteen years of my life, I could easily give you a tour of it if you woke me up in the middle of the night. And the trilogy is about the streets where Alexei Tolstoy spent his youth. His parents lived there. Where do these inconsistencies come from, of which there are so many?”
When I began going to conferences, including those devoted to the works of Alexei Tolstoy, I realized that none of the readers noticed these oddities except for me, a Samara local. Moscow locals don’t know how streets are arranged in our city. That’s when it became obvious to me that I noticed the inconsistencies for a certain reason and had to respond to them. This is how this book began.”
A secret code for the insiders
“You see, when Moscow locals or St. Petersburg locals read “The Road to Calvary” trilogy, they take everything written there at face value. But just imagine: suddenly there is someone among the readers who says, Alexei Nikolayevich, you’ve got something wrong here.
Tolstoy’s reaction? He rushes to embrace this stranger, screaming, “Friend! You are from Samara! You are from the Volga Region!” It seems to me that this is the secret code for the insiders invented by Alexei Tolstoy — to share something that is known only to a certain circle of people.
Generally, he hooliganizes his text as best he can. For example, his stepfather, Alexei Apollonovich Bostrom, is embodied in the novel in two characters at once. He is both doctor Bulavin and “Strambov, former member of the zemstvo”. By the way, do you know how young Alyosha Tolstoy signed a letter to his mother dated September 13, 1891, from the farm Sosnovka?
“Yours, Alyosha Strom-Bom!” Bostrom. Stram-bov. That is how this member of the zemstvo came into existence.
Some of the relatives and acquaintances were “cut in two” by the writer to form two characters; others were “combined” into one. He does the same thing with streets when he mixes them up or swaps them. Tolstoy hooliganized the text as best he could and believed it to be the writer’s privilege. He is the sole master of his reality.”
Literary archaeology
“In the first two novels of “The Road to Calvary” trilogy, “Sisters” and “The Eighteenth Year”, Samara is very much in the picture. And only in the third, “Gloomy Morning”, it is almost absent. I have read them all carefully. I wrote out the family names and locations. Anything I could catch hold of. It took nearly five years. I constantly compare the work of a literary scholar with what an investigator does. If there is any witness to question, any material evidence to send for examination, then it must be done.
I didn’t write the book as a commentator one on one with the fiction text. It was born out of work with archives and photo albums, out of personal and virtual meetings, out of interaction and help from other people who provided me with materials and facts. There were those who came to me and said, “I don’t have anything, but I’ve heard from people I know...” This is what makes the book especially dear to me. The facts collected in it are nowhere else to be found. They were hidden under many layers. So, the work turned out to be akin to archaeology. The fact is that there is nothing incidental about a great artist’s book. In my opinion, his mind is 9/10 memory and 1/10 fantasy. And the former is much more important.
I plan to write two more books in the near future. One of them will be called “Beyond the Blue Rivers. The Secret Alexei Tolstoy”, and another — “Extraordinary Adventures on the Volga Steamships and Beyond. Volga Code in the works by Alexei Tolstoy”. And then there will be the encyclopedia “The Tolstoys and the Samara Region”. I hope to be in time for the 150th anniversary of the writer. Now I have ten years to do it.”
In those very places
“In 2017, I approached the management of GIS TV channel with a proposal to read the Samara chapters of the novel “The Road to Calvary” on the air. On the occasion of the centennial of the revolution, I asked for a possibility to read the novel in those very places which Alexei Tolstoy mentions in the text. The channel’s editor-in-chief, Elena Orlova, supported my idea, and we shot over a hundred episodes.
Today what we did just five years ago is already history. Some of the people who had read Tolstoy on the air have left Samara; some are, sadly, no longer alive. Among the latter, for example, is the famous literary critic Lev Anninsky, who came to Samara for one day only, and we persuaded him to take part in our project. Samara writer Alexander Malinovsky, cinematographer Boris Kozhin, Archpriest Sergei Guselnikov.
A total of 130 readers took part in the project. I am pleased to say that among them were museum workers, librarians, as well as orchestra conductor Mikhail Shcherbakov, chairman of the Union of Journalists Irina Tsvetkova, and actor Vladimir Galchenko. A fragment of the novel is read by Alexei Varlamov, rector of the Institute of Literature, a great writer and author of the book about Alexei Tolstoy in the “Life of Outstanding People” series. The result is a project that will only grow in value as the years go by.
Working on it has revealed to me a number of mysteries hidden by Alexei Tolstoy in the book for his readers to discover.”