Forced to work from the age of 14, he still succeeded in completing his literary studies and started his own writing career in 1961. The Inseparable Twins was written in great secrecy in 1981, and escaped the eyes of the KGB. It was finally published in 1987 by a courageous Moscow magazine, and in the atmosphere of 'glasnost' it was heralded as a literary event.
Anatoly Pristavkin lives in Moscow and continues his writing career. For a few years now he has been protecting human rights as the head of the Russian Presidential Commission for Mercy.
Two Excerpts from the novel The Inseparable Twins
. . . I remember that feeling of anxiety that grew in us on the way from the station to this place in the wooded foothills.
We had grown used to the train, the carriages and the railway; it had become our element. We felt relatively secure in those stations, in those markets among peasant traders and among refugees on the noisy platforms and the trains. All Russia was on the move. All Russia was on the move, all Russia was going somewhere, and we were a part of that human torrent, flesh of its flesh; we were its children.
Now we were being led along a hard, pot-holed road, beside which bloomed flowers that no one picked; where apple trees were ripening; where raws of tall, blackening sunflowers stood, their petals and seeds half shed. And where there was not a single human being, not one . . .
For the whole of our long trek, lasting several hours, we had not seen a cart, a car or a chance passer-by. The whole place was empty. The crops in the fields were ripening. Someone must have sown them, someone must have hoed and weeded them. But who . . . ?
We had passed through a village on our way, where people should have been living . . . yet why had this beautiful countryside greeted us with nothing but dumb, blank silence? Even the buildings of the technical college, with its hastily altered makeshift noticeboard that actually referred to us and our orphaned state, had been deserted, devoid of human life.
And we ourselves seemed like a flock of little animals, cast into a desert as part of some inconceivable zoological experiment: ‘Five Hundred Orphans.’ This was the official description of our breed . . .
Another explosion reverberated in the mountains behind us, and a little girl in the very middle of the column – we could all hear her – cried, ‘I want to go home,’ and burst into tears. Everyone shuffled, turned round and listened as the grown-ups tried to comfort her. Saying, ‘Now, now, what’s the matter? There’s nothing to be frightened of! Look – there’s our new home. See? Everything here is ours from now on - the houses, the river and the mountains . . . We’ve come to live here!’
Once again, for the umpteenth time, there came a bang and a rumble from the mountains. We stood on the treshold of a new life. But we were in no hurry to cross it and enter. I think we all felt the same sense of unhappiness. Muddled and fleeting as our thoughts were, none of them were of ‘coming home’ to a place where everything was to be ours . . . Here, the only thing that we could call ours were ourselves – ourselves and our legs, ever ready to run away should anything happen – and our souls, which, so we were always being told, didn’t exist . . .
Why at that moment I distincly remember (and
I can’t have been alone in this), did I feel so desperately heartsick?
Perhaps from an awful premonition that no happiness was: we simply wanted
Even Musa was made to get dressed, as he too was being sent away. Only the blind boys were staying behind. When the others were all being lined up to be taken to the station, Antosha appeared and shouted, ‘Kuzmin Twins! Are you here? Are you here?’
‘Antosha!’ cried Kolka, and dashed out of the ranks.
Antosha found Kolka’s hand and gave him a piece of paper. It was pierced with with the ‘bumps’ in which the language of the blind is written. ‘There – it tells your fortune!’ saud Antosha, smiling somewhere into space, as only he blind smile.
‘But I can’t read what’s written on it!’
‘If you ever come to our town, go to the market!’ said Antosha. ‘I’ll be there! I’ll read it to you! You are a good person, Kolka!’
‘Line up, children!’ Olga Khristoforovna shouted; this was aimed at Kolka, ‘Everyone follow me!’
It was cold in the street. A chill wind was blowing. The station was deserted. The choldren were put on the train, in an empty, dirty, uncleaned carriage. Apart from them, nobody was travelling on that first day of the new year.
Kolka showed Alhuzur the top two bunks and said, ‘Those are ours. Sashka and I used to travel up there.’
Just then Olga Khristoforovna came into the carriage and shouted, ‘Kolka! Somebode is asking for you!’
‘Who is it?’ Kolka grumbled, unwilling to leave Alhuzur.
‘Go outside and you’ll find out!’ said Olga Khristoforovna. With her slow, ponderous gait she moved on down the carriage, checking to see that everyone was property settled.
‘Are you cold, Musa?’ she asked the Tartar.
Musa was shivering, but he did not want to complain, being so delighted that he, too, was going away; anything was better than being left behind on his own . . .
Kolka went out on to the open platform at the end of the carriage, and there he saw Regina Patrovna. She was holding two parcels.
She run towards Kolka, but stumbled. He watched her, looking down from the carriage-platform, as she hastily climbed up the awkward little iron steps, almost dropping the parcels.
‘There!’ she said, panting breathlessly. ‘These are your clothes – the things I gave to you and Sashka on your birthday.’ Since Kolka made no response, she ended imploringly, ‘Take them! When you’re in your new home . . .’ And she put the parcels down beside Kolka on the platform floor.
They looked at each other in silence.
‘I don’t know where they’re taking you to . . .’ she said. ‘For some reason it’s being kept secret. What nonsense . . . But please, Kolka, think again – now, while there’s still time: why don’t you stay with us? Demyan and I have talked it over and he has no objection to adopting you . . .’ – she corrected herself – ‘. . . adopting you and that other little boy . . .’
Kolka shook his head.
Regina Petrovna sighed. She started to take a cigarette out of a packet, but broke it and threw it away.
‘Well, all right,’ she said. ‘Maybe you’ll write though? When you arrive at wherever it is that you’re going to?’
Suddenly Regina Petrovna stretched out her hand and stroked his head before he had time to turn away.
‘Very well – goodbye? My dear.’ She began to go, but suddenly turned round. ‘Can you answer me one question?’
Kolka nodded. He knew what she was going to ask, and had been expecting this question.
‘Where is your brother? I mean the real Sashka . . . Where is he?’.
Kolka stared into the eyes of the most beautiful woman in the world. How he had loved her! How they had both loved her! But now . . . Sashka might have forgiven her for deserting them, but Kolka could not . . . But nor could he avoid giving her an answer; so he said, ‘Sashka wen away. By train.’
‘A long way away?’
‘Yes. A long way.’
‘Well, thank God. That means he’s alive . . .’ she exclaimed with relief.
Regina Petrovna jumped down from the steps; the train had been given the signal to go.
Kolka immediately ran back into the carriage, forgetting all about the parcels. He was afraid that Alhuzur might be upset without him.
But Alhuzur was looking out of the window, deep in thought. Now they both stood looking out of the window at a woman; although it was windy and she was cold, she had not gone away and was looking up at the carriage.
At last the train started. The carriage gave a jerk and began slowly moving. The woman waved.
Kolka put his face near the glass to look at Regina Petrovna once more and for the last time. She seemed to be shouting something; he shook his head, meaning that he couldn’t hear her, but she may have understood it differently. Even so she kept on shouting, and quickened her pace. Then she started running . . .
Her headscarf slipped down on to her neck, baring her black hair, and her overcoat came undone. Oblivious to this, she kept running, as though chasing after her happiness . . . And she went on shouting and shouting . . .
Kolka waved to her and nodded, as though he had understood something. Then he lost sight of her. He climbed up on to their bunk, lay down beside Alhuzur and put his arms around him. Suddenly he began to cry, pressing his face to the other boy’s shoulder. Alhuzur comforted him, saying, ‘Why you cry? Mustn’t cry . . . We go and go with train till we get there, yes? We stay together, yes? All our life together, yes?’
Kolka couldn’t help himself; he cried all
the harder, and only the clicking of the train’s wheels seemed to be affirming
something:’Together, yes – together, yes – together, yes – together, yes
. . .’