A window to America by Irina Tchaikovskaya

Gripping finale of The Maid of Orleans (Tchaikovsky) with Irina Arkhipova

A window to America by Irina Tchaikovskaya

Russian writer living in the suburbs of Washington talks about her new book and how to preserve Russian cultural heritage in the United States

“Window to America” ​​is the title of a new book by Irina Tchaikovskaya, editor-in-chief of the American Russian-language literary and art magazine “The Seagull”, a writer who lives in the suburbs of Washington. The book contains materials written by the author (articles, essays, reviews, interviews) both about well-known “Russian Americans” (Joseph Brodsky and Lev Losev) and about people little known to the modern reader, such as Valentina Sinkevich or Mikhail Boguslavsky. The author calls all of them “guardians of Russian culture” in America. Irina Tchaikovskaya spoke about how the book was written and why its heroes deserve a long memory, and not only on American soil, in an interview with a correspondent for the Russian service of the Voice of America..

Vadim Massalsky: How this book was born, and how many years it was written?

Irina Tchaikovskaya: I would say that the book was not written, but created. And it was created in the course of life itself. I’ve been in America for twenty years. It so happened that in the very first city where my husband and I found ourselves, we became close to the family of the musician Mikhail Boguslavsky. And it so happened that the first interview that was included in this book was an interview with Mikhail Yakovlevich Boguslavsky, violist, professor. He worked at the local conservatory, and in the USSR was one of the founders of the country’s first Moscow chamber orchestra. And that was the beginning of the book.

I am a person devoted to Russian culture, I write in Russian, read in Russian. It must be said that in America no obstacles are erected for the development of all national cultures. And Russian, and Chinese, and Latin American. Please do it. We have schools, we have the opportunity to publish magazines. There are many large Russian-speaking communities in the United States. And when later my husband and I moved to Boston, we naturally became close to the Russian-speaking community that lived and flourished there. And there I found many of my heroes.

VM: Which of them made the strongest impression on you?

The first big chapter of my “Window to America” ​​is called “Guardians of Russian Culture.” These are the people who created a layer of Russian culture here. In Boston, of course, Naum Moiseevich Korzhavin was such a person. In Boston we went to see him and Lyubov Semyonovna, his wife, every Sunday. He was an extraordinary person. The sage, whom I interviewed a lot, about whom I wrote a lot: about his poems, about his prose. One of my essays about him begins with Plato’s definition of Socrates that outwardly he was not very handsome. The same could be said about Korzhavin in old age. But inside is a treasure, inside is God.

Korzhavin was a person who illuminated everything around him, and I am grateful to fate that she gave me the opportunity to be around for some time with this wonderful couple: Naum Moiseevich and Lyubov Semyonovna. I listened and I wanted to absorb the amazing Korzhavin wisdom. And my first impression of meeting him was very strong..

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I.Ch .: I must say that Korzhavin, although he followed our Russian-language foreign magazines, did not think that Russian culture in America makes any sense. He said that only what is there, in Russia, makes sense. And in general, all his thoughts and aspirations were there. He was an amazing person who, in general, did not take place here in America. He did not even do anything to take place. Although he was invited to give lectures somewhere. And he read them. But he could not and did not want to take root anywhere. But he came to America not at all old. About forty-five years old he was.

VM: Perhaps Korzhavin is not alone in his attitude to the development of Russian culture in America. There are many people who today believe that Russian-language magazines, books, theaters have no chance of survival here..

I.Ch .: No I do not think so. First, the Lord knows what will happen there in the future. When I was forty, I had no idea that I would live abroad, that I would find myself first in Italy and then in America. But life turned out this way.

You see, Russian people who find themselves in America want to speak Russian. They want to watch performances in Russian, read in Russian, write in Russian. And besides, not every Russian author will want and will be able to write in English right away. And not everyone will like it. I can even cite myself as an example.

Here in Boston there is a wonderful director, actress Lilya Levitina. I also write about her in my book. An essay about her is called “Life, give back what you promised!”.

So, she also has a similar, in some ways, perhaps, Korzhavinsky view of Russian art in America. She told me that I was going to do American theater in English, because no one needs Russian theater in America. This does not mean, of course, Russian theater in general, but local performances in Russian. But, in my observation, even her performances, staged with English-speaking actors on the Boston stage, even these performances were attended mainly by the Russian-speaking audience, there were many young people. We argued a lot on this topic. The book has these controversies.

With Korzhavin, we also “argued in a terrible way” on this topic (about the dying Russian culture in the United States). I perceived Naum Moiseevich as a teacher. I listened to his arguments, but nevertheless remained unconvinced, otherwise this book would simply not have worked out..

VM: Irina, and you could read some Korzhavin lines now?

I.Ch .: I don’t know how well I can read poetry, but I’ll try. This is what can be called the credo of Naum Korzhavin. I called my essay “Heavy on Mortal Shoulders” with the opening line..

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VM: Tell me, he, Korzhavin, was a believer?

I.Ch .: Yes. Already in his mature years he became Orthodox, despite the fact that he was a Jew and he did not betray his Jewishness, but it was very important for him to merge with the Russian people, with the Russian identity. He loved it very much, he knew and understood.

VM: Irina, I understand that each of your heroes is dear to you. But about whom, of those whom you knew personally well, you could tell more?

I.Ch .: There are many people in the book who are very dear to my heart. This is, for example, the poetess Valentina Alekseevna Sinkevich. In my collection there are three materials about this beautiful poet who lived in Philadelphia. For twelve years we were friends, friends in absentia. I have never personally seen her. She even opposed my husband and I to come. She was a woman of extraordinary beauty. But already in old age she did not want to be seen. But we talked to her almost every day..

She still found my first essay for her 90th birthday, it is known that they often write after a person has left. I tried to write during her lifetime. Life is very difficult.

Valentina Sinkevich belonged to the second wave of emigration. These are those who in Russia are most often called traitors, traitors. These are those who, during the war, ended up abroad, on the territory of Germany. And their fates were not easy. They often changed their names so that they would not be recognized. They ended up abroad in different ways. By the way, Sergei Lvovich Gollerbakh, a New York artist, about whom I also wrote in my new book, is a man of the same difficult fate.

During the war, Valentina Alekseevna Sinkevich was taken from Ukraine to work in Germany, and then, after the war, by the will of fate, she ended up in America. And therefore it was difficult for her works to get to Russia. Sinkevich has an unexpected poetic tradition. Unusual versification. Not an ordinary syllabotonic, the rhyme is also unusual. Many reviewers write that she adopted this system from American poets. But she started writing as a child, in Ukraine. That is why it seems to me that the roots of her poetry are Ukrainian, they go back to the same place (one of the forms of ancient tonic recitative versification, which has a folklore basis – V.M.’s note)

Here are the lines from her poem “Portrait”, which I cite in my essay about Valentina Alekseevna.

A window to America by Irina Tchaikovskaya
A window to America by Irina Tchaikovskaya

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I.Ch .: One more name must also be mentioned – this is Niklas Burlak. This is an amazing person – an American volunteer in the Red Army during the Great Patriotic War. It went from Kursk to Berlin. Once, as a child, I read the adventure novel by Louis Boussinard “Captain Tear the Head”, so for me Niklas Burlak is the same hero. He himself wrote a book in English, Love and War. The fact is that as a young guy he was in love with a nurse who died later in the war….

I read Burlak’s book in manuscript. And when I read it in English, I had the feeling that I was reading in Russian. There were Russian intonations, Russian names, Russian words.

Niklas is an extraordinary person, incredible fate, incredible adventures. And it’s all true. He was a writer, a director, an actor, back in the USSR. He is Ukrainian by his father. Father was a participant in the uprising on the battleship Potemkin. He fled across the Russian-Romanian border. Then he came to America. Later, in the 1930s, among the American specialists, his father and his family came to the USSR..

I can still list all my favorite characters in my book for a long time. These are Ilya Bass, Tatiana Belogorskaya, Evsey Tseitlin, Igor Mikhalevich-Kaplan, Solomon Volkov, Joseph Boguslavsky, Lev Berdnikov, Marina Khazanova, Nina Beilina, Nina Zaretskaya.

There are 37 heroes in the book. Not all names fit into this collection. There are still video versions of the interviews that have not been transcribed..

VM: Who is the last hero in your book?

I.Ch .: My last hero, of course, not by importance, but the last in the table of contents is Boris Mikhailovich Kazinets. This is a person whom I have personally observed for more than one year. This is the People’s Artist of Georgia, a wonderful theater actor. He arrived in the United States in the early 1990s, but did not change his theatrical destiny. He created the Theater of Russian Classics here. He has been on stage for 70 years. In October we are preparing to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the veteran of our stage. For his current anniversary, Boris Mikhailovich has made a new solo performance, based on Pushkin’s “Count Nulin” and Lermontov’s “Tambov Treasury”. This is such a correspondence poetic duel between two Russian classics. Unfortunately, the pandemic does not yet provide an opportunity to make a premiere. But there is already a video version – a film-play. And I hope we see him soon.

VM: Tell me, how did you manage to publish your book now, during a pandemic??

I.Ch .: The book was in the same publishing house for 10 years. Good publishing house. I don’t know, maybe they were scared of something, maybe the name “America”? I thought that the book would never be published. But I added new stories to it. The result is 511 pages. And I am very grateful to the Academic Project Publishing House, which published my collection, with a good cover, with photographs of all the characters. The book has already visited several book fairs in Moscow, which took place despite the pandemic. Plus, in electronic form, the book can be purchased.

VM: Your “Window to America” ​​is still a window to the past?

I.Ch .: I think that there is history, memory, and the past. And modernity, of course. Because these people live among us. The next collection, if it comes out, will be more devoted to the topic of children and youth. There are many stories about Russian teachers, about Russian-language children’s theater studios in America, which every year organize a theater festival here in Washington. This will be another “Window to America”, only to the future.

And when you ask me a question about the future of Russian culture in America, I just look in this direction. We do not know what will happen next there. Will there be a new wave of Russian-speaking emigration? And maybe there will be some kind of convergence of cultures? But the fact that the Russian culture sprouted some grains on American soil and gave some seedlings is understandable even without a microscope. We must collect and save it bit by bit so that people know, remember. And not only here, but also in Russia. Many in Russia today are so “muzzled” by propaganda that they not only fail to see what is happening in America, but also don’t see what is really happening in their homes. Therefore, this book, I hope, will help them better understand their own country – Russia..

  • Vadim Massalsky

    Journalist, blogger, specializes in the topic of US-Russian relations

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  • Dmitry Shakhov

    Operator, producer of the program Present time. Results. on Voice of America since 2014

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