NABOKV-L post 0000833, Thu, 23 Nov 1995 10:14:54 -0800

Bella Akhmadulina on V.N. (fwd)
EDITORIAL NOTE. CHRISTINE RYDEL <rydelc@GVSU.EDU> provides the following
translation of an interview-article with Russian poet Bella Akhmadulina,
generally considered to be one of the best living Russian poets.
Akmadulina was certainly among the last visitors that Nabokov received.
Dr. Rydel is presently completing work on a "Who's Who in
Nabokov's Works."
In March of 1977, as Boyd notes (Vol. II, p. 659), the
Russian poet Bella Akhmadulina, along with her husband, the
artist Boris Messerer, had the opportunity to visit Nabokov.
In a 1987 interview on the eve of her 50th birthday, she
briefly, but emotionally, described his visit to Felix
Medvedev, a correspondent at that time for the magazine
_Ogonek_. If you think it may be unknown and interesting to
Nabokovians, here is a translation of Akhmadulina's account
of the meeting.
For me Vladimir Nabokov's Russian was so captivating,
that I tried many times to write to him to let this
remarkable writer know that he has not totally missed
crossing paths with Russia and that Russia will not always
miss crossing paths with him.
Please believe me that when I talk about love for a
writer, the more so when he is much more well-known, that
this in no way means that I am seeking a meeting with him.
But if fate itself brings us together...Furthermore I
consider imposing on a "contact" to be ill-mannered and
vain. None the less it turned out that my husband, Boris
Messerer, and I happened to be in Switzerland in 1977 and my
friends, Russians who live abroad, but who love Russia
immensely, knew about my feelings for Nabokov and organized
a meeting with him.
We spoke on the phone and Nabokov explained that in
spite of his illness and exhaustion, he was inviting us to
visit him the next day around four o'clock. And so we left
Geneva to go to the small town of Montreux, where the writer
lived. He spent the last years of his life right there in
the Montreux Palace Hotel.
Having stopped along the way to buy flowers for
Nabokov's wife Vera Evseevna, we raced along to our meeting
with one of the most remarkable writers of the twentieth
In the first few seconds I was struck by the unusual
beauty of Nabokov's face, its nobility. I had seen many
photographs of the writer, but not one of them captured the
genuinely animated expression of his face. Vladimir
Vladimirovich once again apologized that he was not well and
that unfortunately he could not affor us much time; but none
the less our meeting lasted longer [than we expected]. Of
course it was interesting for us to listen to Vladimir
Vladimirovich. Therefore we remained silent for the most
part. He asked: "Is it true that my Russian seems good to
you?" "It's the best," I answered. "Really, and I thought
that it was a frozen strawberry."
He began to talk about his work and said that he was
writing a novel in English even while ill. In general he
wrote all of his last works in English. By the way, many
consider his English to be striking. To be more exact, he
said that the novel seemed to be writing itself, and all
that was left to do was for him to put it on paper. He
referred to a collection of his poems that was at that time
being prepared for publication. "Perhaps I'm doing this in
vain; at times it seems to me that not all of the poems are
good." But then he joked, "Well its still not too late to
change all of them."
A complex feeling of uncommon love for him took hold of
me, and I sensed that although he was gentle and kind, a
meeting with a fellow countryman caused him some suffering.
For the Russia, which he remembered and loved, I thought,
has changed since he last saw it; the people have changed,
and even the language itself has rather changed, yes, and
many other things which connected him with his former life
[have also changed]. He snatched at the conversation, he
made an effort to understand something, to be filled with
something ... Perhaps a sensation of the impending,
terrifying separation with everything and everyone on earth
caused him pain, and he wanted to sate himself with the air
of his native land, his native earth, and of a person
speaking Russian.
I did not know then that he had very little time left
to live. This was March, and in the summer Vladimir
Vladimirovich was no more. I recall the meeting with him as
the most wonderful event in my fate. In one of his novels,
it says that one can really return to Russia under the guise
of some kind of personage ... I remarked to him that he will
return to Russia namely as the person who he is for Russia.
"This will be, this will be ..." I repeated. Nabokov knew
that his books were not being published in the Soviet Union,
but asked with some hope "But can you get something of mine
in the library?" (He misplaced the accent in library ["On
sdelal udarenie na "o"--v bibliOteke"])? I spread my hands
[in a gesture of helplessness--"ia razvela rukami"].

The original account appeared in _Ogonek_, No. 15, 1987, pp.
10-11. In other interviews Akhmadulina comments on her
joyous reaction to the publication of Nabokov's works in
Russia in _Soviet Literature_, No. 6 (483), 1988, p. 138 and
in _Sovetskaia Torgovlia_ (_Soviet Trade_), No. 12, 1989, p.