This is a finely sculpted nostalgic portrait of exile and love in its two most powerful and memorable manifestations – to the chosen one of the heart and to the homeland. The plot takes us back to the twenties of the 20th century and a Berlin boarding house, where a few Russian emigrants live in the shadow of the past, with faint hope for an unknown future and with sadness and longing for the Russia that pushed them out. Unexpectedly, fate presents an expensive gift to Lev Glebovich Ganin, sunk in the ghostly everyday life. In the picture of his neighbor's wife, which arrives in a few days, he sees the face of his first love. In his mind, the former heart tremors come to life against the background of the idyllic pictures of his native land, and he sprouts confidence that it is possible that the shining days will return…
Vladimir Nabokov /1899-1977/ was a remarkable novelist, poet, literary critic and translator. He was born into an aristocratic family in St. Petersburg, later emigrated with his parents to England. Known as a cosmopolitan figure with a bright personality, he is distinguished by the richness and depth of his linguistic skill, his erudite style and unusual creative inventions. Works such as The Magician, Lolita, Laughter in the Dark and Invitation to Execution establish him as one of the most gifted and influential stylists of our time. "Mashenka" was released in 1926 under the pseudonym V. Sirin and was adapted into the UK in 1987 by director John Goldschmidt.
The boarding house was Russian, and an unpleasant one at that. It was most unpleasant that all day and most of the night the trains of the city railway could be heard; therefore, it was as if the whole building had slowly drifted away. The hall, where a dark mirror with a glove-stand had been hung, and an oaken chest in which you could easily bump a knee, had been left, narrowed into a bare, very narrow corridor. On either side of it were three rooms with black numbers pasted on the doors: they were simply sheets torn from an old calendar-the six first days of April. In the April Fool's Room - the first door on the left - Alfiorov now lived; in the next - Ganin, in the third - the landlady herself, Lidia Nikolaevna Dorn. She was the widow of a German merchant who had brought her twenty years ago from Sarepta, and who had died the year before of brain inflammation. In the three rooms on the right - from the fourth to the sixth of April - lived the old Russian poet Anton Sergeevich Podtyagin, Clara - a large-breasted young lady with remarkable bluish-brown eyes; and finally - in the sixth room, next to the corner of the corridor - the ballet dancers Colin and Gornotsvetov; both of them had a feminine look, and were thin, with powdered noses and muscular calves. At the end of the first corridor was a dining room with a lithograph of The Last Supper on the wall opposite the door and horned yellow deer skulls on the other wall, above the bulging sideboard with the two crystal vases, once the purest objects in the whole dwelling, now darkened by fluffy duster. From the dining-room the corridor curved at right angles to the right: beyond, among the tragic and unscented woods, were the kitchen, the servant's larder, the dirty bathroom, and the toilet cubicle, on the door of which stood two crimson zeros, once taken from their legal tens, which had once represented two various Sundays in Mr. Dorn's desk calendar. A month after his death, Lydia Nikolaevna, a petite, shrill, and somewhat prodigious woman, rented the empty apartment and turned it into a boarding house, showing an unusual, slightly shocking ingenuity in the distribution of all those pieces of furniture she had received as an inheritance. Tables, chairs, creaking wardrobes, and rickety couches were scattered about the rooms she had decided to rent, and as soon as they were thus separated from each other, the furniture immediately fell into disrepair, took on a shabby and untidy appearance like the bones of a disorganized skeleton. The desk of the deceased, an oak pile with an iron inkwell in the shape of a frog and a middle drawer as deep as a hold, had ended up in number one, where Alfiorov lived, and the swivel chair, once acquired together with the desk, had been orphaned among the dancers, inhabiting the sixth room. The pair of green armchairs had also separated: one was bored at Ganin's, the other was occupied by the landlady herself or her old dachshund, a fat black bitch with a gray muzzle and drooping ears, velvety at the ends and as if with butterfly eyelashes. And on the shelf in Clara's room, the first few volumes of the encyclopedia were arranged for decoration, while the rest had gone to Podtyagin. Clara was also awarded the only decent vanity with a mirror and drawers; in each of the other rooms there was simply a counter with a tin basin and a similar jug. You see, the beds had to be bought, which Mrs. Dorn did directly, not because she liked it, but because she felt a kind of sweet gamble, a kind of domestic pride, in having so successfully disposed of all her former furniture, but in the present case she was angry that there was not how to cut her double bed into the necessary number of parts, and it was too spacious for her, the widow, to sleep on it. She personally cleaned the rooms, barely crooked at that, she was never good at cooking, she had hired a cook, the terror of the market, a huge red-haired woman who slipped on a raspberry hat on Fridays and dusted for the northern districts to profit from her seductive size. Lydia Nikolaevna did not dare to enter the kitchen, she was generally meek and timid. If she happened to trudge along the corridor with her dull feet, it seemed to the tenants that this small, gray-haired, chip-nosed woman was not the landlady at all, but just a decrepit old woman who had found herself in someone else's apartment. She curled up like a rag doll when in the morning she hurriedly brushed the rubbish from under the furniture, then sank into her room, the smallest of all, where she read some tattered German books or went through her late husband's records, of which she had no idea. Only Podtyagin stopped by this room, caressed the black dachshund, pinched his ears, the wart on his gray muzzle, tried to get the bitch to give him a crooked paw and told Lydia Nikolaevna about his painful senile illness and that since so much time, for half a year now, he applied for a visa to Paris, and his niece lives there, and long crispy baguettes and red wine are very cheap there. The old woman nodded, sometimes she asked him about her other tenants, and especially about Ganin, who, according to her, was nothing like all the Russian young men staying in her boarding house. After three months with her, Ganin was now about to leave, he had even told her that he would vacate the room this Saturday, but it was not the first time he had decided to move out, he kept putting it off and staying. Lydia Nikolaevna had learned from the words of the old poet that Ganin had a girlfriend. That was clearly the problem.
Lately he had become listless and gloomy. Well, until recently he could walk on his hands like a Japanese acrobat, slenderly stretched his legs and moved forward like a sailboat, he managed to lift a chair with his teeth and break a string with his tight biceps. A fire was constantly burning in his body: he always wanted to jump over a fence, shake a post, in short - to run wild, as we used to say in our youth. Now, however, as if some nut had loosened, he even hunched over and confessed to Podtyagin that he suffered from insomnia "like a lick."He didn't sleep well the night before Monday either, after the twenty minutes he spent with the chatty gentleman in the stuck elevator. On Monday morning, I sat naked for a long time, clasping my cold hands between my knees, stunned by the thought that this day too I would have to put on a shirt, socks, trousers - all these rags soaked in sweat and dust - and I thought of the circus a poodle that looked horribly pitiful. This lethargy was partly due to idleness. He did not have to work very hard now, for he had accumulated a certain amount during the winter, of which he now had about two hundred marks, no more: the past three months had cost him dearly.
Last year, as soon as he arrived in Berlin, he immediately found a job and then worked until January - many and varied: he knew the yellowish darkness of the early hour when one sets out for the factory; he also knew how the legs get tired after trudging for ten versts with a tray in your hands between the tables in the restaurant "Pur Goroi"; he was also familiar with any other work, he took on credit to sell everything he came across - both pretzels, and brilliants, and just brilliants. He abhorred nothing: he had more than once sold his shadow like many of us. In other words, he had appeared in out-of-town motion pictures as an extra, where, in a hastily stiffened saivant with a mystical scream, the monstrous circles of spotlights flashed into light, aimed like cannons at the deathly bright crowd of extras, shooting a white murderous glare from point-blank range, illuminating the wax-makeup of the frozen faces, went out with a crackle, but for a long time in these complex glassware, reddish embers faded: our human shame. The deal was done, our nameless shadows were taking over the world.
His remaining money was enough to get out of Berlin. For this purpose, however, he had to break up with Lyudmila, and he had no idea how to break up. Although he had set a deadline of a week and told the landlady that he had definitely decided to leave on Saturday, Ganin felt that neither this week nor the next would change anything. At the same time, an attraction to a new foreign country pressed on him, especially in the spring. His window looked out onto the railroad tracks, so the opportunity to leave was constantly nagging at him. Every five minutes the house creaked and moved quietly, then a cloud of smoke billowed in front of the window, obscured the white Berlin day, slowly melted away, and then again the fan of rails could be seen, narrowing in the distance, between the black back walls of the buildings, as if cut off, and above all this – the sky, pale as almond milk.