NABOKV-L post 0002449, Thu, 9 Oct 1997 19:07:31 -0700

Subject
Re: Dovlatov, Chukovski and Ahmadullina (fwd)
Date
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---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Fri, 10 Oct 1997 02:17:27 +0400
To: Vladimir Nabokov Forum <NABOKV-L@UCSBVM.ucsb.edu>
Subject: Re: Dovlatov, Chukovski and Ahmadullina

From: "Peter A. Kartsev" <petr@glas.apc.org>

I think the story may well be based on Ahmadullina's meeting with Nabokov.
About six months ago in Moscow I met Thomas Urban, a German journalist who
is working on a book about the perception of Nabokov and reactions to him
in the former Soviet Union. He was going to interview Bella Ahmadullina to
find out the details of that meeting. While she was quite welcoming as
they first talked on the phone, she must have changed her mind later.
During their second talk she declined to be interviewed and said something
indicating that the meeting with Nabokov had disappointed her. I've seen
the typescript of the conversation and though I don't remember the exact
words, that is the impression I am left with. She seems to be a person of
sharply contrasting moods and it is quite possible that she remembers the
whole thing in different lights according to her current state of mind.
Just as I imagine Dovlatov's character might do. Dovlatov was known for
poking fun at his many literary aquaintances. The character is not EXACTLY
Ahmadullina, of course, but then, Levitsky doesn't sound like an exact
portrait of Nabokov either.

I don't know this particular story, but the game that Dovlatov mentions,
akulina, is an old Russian card game in which the loser is the player who
is left holding the queen of spades (akulina) at the end. I don't remember
if VN mentions it anywhere but I think he well might have played it as a
child.

I also can't help mentioning that Kornei Chukovski's saintly image was
indeed cultivated by the "liberal" literary circle in the Soviet Union,
but he was in fact just a crafty survivor (prisposoblenets, to use an ugly
local term) who found his niche specializing in silly forewords to
children's classics translated from the English, of the kind that had been
delightfully sent up by Il'f and Petrov. My wife still treasures his
foreword to "Robinson Crusoe" as a masterpiece of simple-minded Soviet
hypocrisy.

Peter Kartsev.