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Peredelkino, Russia

Experienced voyagerExperienced voyagerExperienced voyagerExperienced voyager Joshua Brook
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To the south and west of Moscow the forests are filled with dacha settlements, colonies of small country houses, where the residents of the city escape Moscow at the weekends and during the summer. One of these little colonies is the famous writers' village, Peredelkino, which became popular amongst the capital's cultural and literary elite late last century and which is now the burial site of the famous Symbolist writer, Boris Pasternak. Although today the settlement is favored less and less by the Muscovite intelligentsia, and most of its famous residents have passed away or are now regarded as old hat (other than the Orthodox Patriarch Alexei II who owns a villa there), the Pasternak Dacha-Museum is a must-see for all those interested in the writer and his life and work.

Pasternak was born in Moscow in 1890 into a highly cultured and artistic Jewish family. His father, Leonid Pasternak, was an art professor and portraitist and his mother, Maria Kaufman, a celebrated pianist of the day. The family's circle of friends included the novelist Leo Tolstoy and the famous composer Sergei Rakhmaninov. The young Pasternak wrote from an early age but opted initially for a musical career. After studying musical theory and composition for 6 years, the poet abruptly changed his area of study to philosophy and took more seriously to his writing. Pasternak published his first volume of poetry, entitled "Over the Barriers", in 1913 and quickly established himself as one of the most exciting new lyrical voices of the decade. Reflecting Symbolist influences, his later work became increasingly disparate from the Soviet-imposed theory of Socialist Realism, and during the 1930s he was not permitted to publish and feared for his life during the escalating purges of that decade. During this time he took to translating as a safer means of earning a living. Amongst other works, he translated poetry by various native Georgian writers, which may well have been the reason why Stalin, a Georgian by nationality himself, chose to spare the poet. In 1956 Pasternak's great romantic novel "Doctor Zhivago" was rejected by Russian publishers for falsely representing the October Revolution, but the book rapidly reached the West and was heralded with great acclaim and a Nobel Prize for Literature. The author was forced to decline the prize due to mounting pressure from Soviet literary circles, which prompted his expulsion from the Union of Soviet Writers (his main means of earning a living) and had the authorities threatening his deportation. So Pasternak peacefully retired to his dacha, where he spent his last years contentedly writing, gardening and entertaining guests up until his death of lung cancer in 1960.

Built by his father Leonid in 1937, the Pasternak dacha was opened as a memorial museum for the poet in 1990, just 3 years after the posthumous reinstatement of the poet by the Union of Soviet Writers. The dacha's dining room features numerous sketches and portraits by the writer's father as well as Pasternak's own collection of fine Georgian ceramics. Visitors can wander through the glassed-in veranda where the poet loved to entertain guests or have a peek at Pasternak's study-bedroom, whose shelves are filled with Russian encyclopedias and English novels. The poet was buried in the local village cemetery beside four other members of his family. The graveyard is a short walk from the dacha. More info on: www.moscow-taxi.com

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