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Museum Collection

A Letter of L.A.Donetsky to Sholokhov

A Letter of L.A.Donetsky, May, 19, 1972, Rostov-on-Don

 

“Dear Mikhail Alexandrovich!

 

I spent my childhood and youth in one of the Don villages. When the first part of the novel “And Quiet Flows the Don” was published, I read it without stopping.

Besides the excitement, which millions of other readers probably experienced, I’ve got an impression of a pleasant surprise meeting with something dear and near for me.

At that time I worked in Stanitsa Konstantinovskaya and some weeks later I met a man, who knew you personally. It was policeman Shchegolkov, whose surname is mentioned by you in connection with “the exploit” of Kuzma Kryuchkov. As Shchegolkov said, he was in the service with you in the food detachment.

Since then I’d been trying to miss neither of your works nor articles. But now it’s not me personally to speak about – I would like to tell you about an unusual episode connected with the novel “And Quiet Flows the Don”.

In 1938, I was arrested and having got through a difficult investigation and wandering through transit prisons I got into one of the detachments of the Mariinsky agricultural forced labour camp (the Kemerovo Region).

There I was caught by the war.

Among a hundred of prisoners I worked in the repair and mechanical workshops. We lived under a strict regime in a barrack, of which only the roof was seen above the surface of the ground. That winter was particularly harsh, with severe frosts and snowstorms, but we were dressed not for the climate. We worked hard, were hungry and it was cold not only at work, but after it as well.

But it was another thing that oppressed us mostly. The main thing was our incomprehension of what was happening to us (there were many Communists among us), no communication with our families and unawareness of our further existence. Earlier we had hoped for our cases to be reconsidered, but then it became clear it was useless to count on that either at present, or after the war: we were “prisoners” and would remain them for long. Besides, we would never be able to prove our innocence and would bear a brand of “people’s enemy” or, at best, “former people’s enemy” forever. As well, our hope to meet with our families disappeared.

And under these conditions we managed to get somehow the seventh part of the novel “And Quiet Flows the Don” (books were a big rarity for us). We read it aloud many evenings: we had little time for it. After work we tried to finish our usual daily rounds as quickly as possible. Then we lay down on the bunks, covered ourselves with our clothes (It was cold in the barrack); everything became quiet, objects and people being obscure in the twilight.

I would sit down at the table, put an oil lamp nearer and begin reading. All listened with great attention; if someone could not hold back coughing, I stopped for a while. The people wanted to hear everything to the last word.

Though almost 30 years have passed, I clearly remember them listening to those pages describing the scenes of weeding melons, Grigory’s coming home after the death of Nataliya. With bated breath they were lying impressed and captured by some other’s sufferings.

Sometimes my voice failed with excitement and they all kept silence waiting for me to continue reading.

I shared the feelings of my listeners, and simultaneously I was caught by delight and pride – rapture and amazement at the power of the word making us forget our crippled lives, permanent anxiety for our families, anguish at the thought of an anxious future – to forget one’s own fate and live the life of someone else. I can’t say “the life of imaginary people” – for us they were living people, whom side by side with we went through all the time.

I felt pride for our Country, for our Quiet Don, which gave rise to the writer gifted to create such a book.

On those days I gave a word: if I am exonerated some time, I will write to you about everything on behalf of my listeners and me.

But before the exoneration, a long and hard path was to be covered: liberation in 1946, humiliating search of job, short working in a good collective body, a second confinement, exile, and only late in 1955, I was exonerated and reinstated in the Communist Party.

But by this time I have begun doubting whether I should write to you.

Meanwhile, years went by.

Recently I was put in hospital to be operated on. The operation was not very serious, but unexpected things may happen. So, lying in bed and going through the reminiscences of my past life I thought over my promise in a new way and got excited: ”what if the operation is unsuccessful, and I wouldn’t be able to write to you about the episode, which took place long ago?” Can it be more important for you than some ceremonial speeches, which I heard in the Rostov theatre on the day of your 60th anniversary?”

The operation was successful and I am at work again.

With a great delay I keep my word. My listeners and I thank you very much for everything you have written.

Dear Mikhail Alexandrovich, please, be healthy and live very, very long.

                    L.Donetsky.

                     19/V-1972.

                     Rostov-on-Don-71, 2nd Krasnodarskaya, 155/3, flat 39.”