Valerii Pereleshin

Valerii Pereleshin: The Life of a Silkworm

OLGA BAKICH
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 408
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/j.ctt14bthfn
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  • Book Info
    Valerii Pereleshin
    Book Description:

    Olga Bakich's biography of Valerii Pereleshin (1913-1992) follows the turbulent life and exquisite poetry of one of the most remarkable Russian émigrés of the twentieth century. Born in Irkutsk, Pereleshin lived for thirty years in China and for almost forty years in Brazil. Multilingual, he wrote poetry in Russian and in Portuguese and translated Chinese and Brazilian poetry into Russian and Russian and Chinese poetry into Portuguese. For many years he struggled to accept and express his own identity as a gay man within a frequently homophobic émigré community. His poems addressed his three homelands, his religious struggles, and his loves. InValerii Pereleshin: The Life of a Silkworm, Bakich delves deep into Pereleshin's poems and letters to tell the rich life story of this underappreciated writer.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-1903-6
    Subjects: History, Language & Literature, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xv)
  5. [Illustrations]
    (pp. xvi-2)
  6. Part One: China, 1920–1952

    • 1 Russian Childhood
      (pp. 5-12)

      “‘Grandpa, I’d like to learn something about the history of our clan,’ – I said, eighteen at the time, to the civil engineer Erazm Frantsevich Salatko-Petrishche, a holder of several decorations of the Russian Empire and a Full Councillor of the State, who worked then (in the 1930s) as a math teacher at a Russian Non-Classical Secondary School in Harbin. – ‘I don’t have anything. But on top of the wardrobe there are some papers on who was suing whom.’ My father, Frants Erazmovich, gave me my grandfather’s papers after he died in 1938.”¹ In this bundle, the future poet...

    • 2 Harbin: On the Way to Becoming a Poet
      (pp. 13-38)

      “Platforms of Chita Station, / depot and the quiet sobs of locomotives, / and then – a fairy-tale Harbin,” Pereleshin recalled in “Falling Asleep” (Pered snom, 10.12.1971]). On arrival, he saw for the first time the art nouveau curves of the Harbin Central Railway Station with its candlelit icon of St Nicholas of Myra in Lycia, the protector of travellers. The Station Square narrowed into Railway Station Avenue going uphill, past the grand buildings of the Russo-Asian Bank, the former Garrison Club, and private mansions, to the wooden St Nicholas Cathedral, a symbol of Russian Harbin. Manchurian autumn lingered in...

    • 3 Harbin: The Poet as a Monk
      (pp. 39-58)

      In the summer of 1935, Pereleshin’s aunt Emiliia Naam introduced him to the mother of a girl she was tutoring. Elena Aleksandrovna Genkel’, fourteen years older, married, with a daughter from her first marriage, befriended the young poet. His “Cinderella” (Sandril’ona, 28.8.1935), dedicated to her, empathized with “my golden Cinderella,” whose prince had tried her crystal slipper on the feet of many girls, had dropped and smashed it, and would now never find her.

      Genkel’s husband was soon transferred to Dairen, the Japanese name for Dalian in Chinese and Dal’nii in Russian. She “wanted me to write to her; we...

    • 4 Beijing: “Wonderful, Beloved City”
      (pp. 59-89)

      On 25 September 1939, a day of “golden Beijing autumn,” bespectacled Monk Herman in his black cassock and monk’s tall hat got off the train at Qianmeng Railway Square, hired a cab (“a hefty rickshaw” in a later poetic account) and set out for the Beijing Ecclesiastical Mission. On the way, he marvelled at the beauty of ancient towers and gates, multitude of colours and sounds, kaleidoscope of shop signs, and bustle and vitality of the crowds. Harbin with its semi-Russian life was a young provincial hybrid; it was the ancient Beijing that captured Pereleshin’s poetic heart with its unforgettable...

    • 5 Shanghai: Fogs and Chimeras
      (pp. 90-121)

      Pereleshin’s trip turned into “the most horrible nightmare.” The train was overcrowded with “long-suffering” Chinese, some travelling even in the toilets. After crossing the Yangzi by ferry, they waited for the delayed train and, as people pushed at the barriers, Japanese guards, “drunk with power” and “with impassive and almost cheerful faces,” took off their belts and lashed out at the crowd. Pereleshin, caught like “a dumb woodchip,” barely escaped the lashes and nearly lost his travel bag.¹ On 3 November 1943 he finally arrived in Shanghai. The city was “starving and freezing, a curfew was imposed from 11:00 at...

    • 6 The Long Farewell
      (pp. 122-140)

      The US visa arrived on 16 January 1950 and Pereleshin renewed his Soviet passport on the same day (verbatim from English), “because some applicants told me that a visa could only be stamped in a valid passport.” He received the exit visa on 19 March and the Hong Kong transit visa on 12 April 1950, and Victor sent money for travelling expenses.¹ Chang Kai-shek’s blockade of Shanghai forced him to leave China via Tianjin, and, as they had arranged, his mother moved there to see him off and wait for her sons’ sponsorship. She parted with heartbroken Koloshin, her mother,...

  7. Part Two: Brazil, 1953–1992

    • 7 Cidade maravilhosa
      (pp. 143-159)

      On 19 January 1953, Pereleshin and his mother stepped ashore, “out of all possible places on earth, almost on the moon, in Brazil,” incidade maravilhosa, as the natives call Rio de Janeiro, with Christ the Redeemer on Corcovado spreading his arms in blessing. Pereleshin had never stopped loving war-ravaged and long-suffering China, but his heart instantly embraced this “paradise” of sunshine and freedom: “I love, love, love Brazil and will not leave it for any other place.”¹

      The annual Carnival a few weeks after their arrival captured his imagination:

      Drunk with samba, crowds are dancing in a solid mass...

    • 8 Resurrection of the Poet
      (pp. 160-188)

      Pereleshin turned fifty-four in 1967. His colleagues at the British Council and local Russians called him “a walking encyclopedia,” but he could not find a job. He looked into translating, but the age limit at the United Nations was fifty, and passing a Portuguese-English test at the Indian embassy did not get him a job.¹ He thought of the priesthood, but feared being “obligated to the Church”; “it will be difficult to teach what I am far from sure about and absolutely disgusting to do christenings and weddings.” Moreover, his mother was “rather old to be left alone anddesamparada...

    • 9 From Mount Nebo
      (pp. 189-200)

      By 1973, Pereleshin had lived in Brazil for twenty years. The United States was closed to him, and dreams of visiting Europe had ended with the loss of his British Council job. Then, out of the blue, a trip to Europe became a possibility. His mother had kept in touch with V.V. Koloshin, her Harbin common-law husband, who, like some other elderly Russians, was accepted in the mid-1950s at a seniors’ residence in Belgium. In September 1973 he wrote to her that his life was coming to an end and he wanted her to visit and to have his savings....

    • 10 The Left-hander
      (pp. 201-221)

      Of several major loves in Pereleshin’s life, one stands out as a romantic invention, which had little to do with the actual person involved.

      In 1971, a young Muscovite, Evgenii (Zhenia) Vitkovskii, got Pereleshin’s address from Lidiia Khaindrova and introduced himself as a reader and researcher of his poetry.¹ Pereleshin answered, and soon, “out of stupidity,” Vitkovskii showed some translations and poems sent by Pereleshin to the newspaperVoice of Homeland(Golos rodiny) and the journalHomeland(Rodina), published for the so-called dear compatriots by the Committee for Cultural Relations with Compatriots Abroad. Although Pereleshin had “no intention whatsoever of...

    • 11 New Roads and Great Loss
      (pp. 222-247)

      In the 1970s, Pereleshin’s earnings from articles, occasional tuition, and translations were small and irregular, and self-publishing was draining whatever money he and his mother were managing to save. He started selling his stamps to other collectors and various books and materials to universities in the United States; he even approached Bishop Nikandr of the Brazilian-Venezuelan eparchy, his former student at the Harbin Ecclesiastical Seminary, but then changed his mind about serving in the church, fearing obedience, gossip, and stress. In 1972 he was invited to give a few lectures in Portuguese on Russian literature at Anchieta University in São...

    • 12 Growing Recognition
      (pp. 248-270)

      In the 1970s and 1980s, Pereleshin was becoming known from his books and publications in émigré periodicals and anthologies in Europe, Canada, the United States, and Australia. Iurii Ivask, Aleksis Rannit, and Simon Karlinsky wrote articles on his poetry, and he was included in Tamara Pachmuss’sA Russian Cultural Revival: Anthology of Émigré Literature before 1939, Victor Terras’sA Handbook of Russian Literature, and Wolfgang Kasack’s revisedLexikon der russischen Literatur ab 1917. The latter pleased him by mentioning his “passion for young men.”

      Well aware of how many works and archives of Russian poets of China had been lost,...

    • 13 Last Love, Last Books, Last Years
      (pp. 271-292)

      In Harbin, at their first meeting in the poetic circle Churaevka, Georgii Granin asked Pereleshin whether he was in love: “in his simple world view, a poet must be constantly in love.” If it seemed somewhat funny then, in his seventies he saw a certain wisdom in seeing love as a source of inspiration.¹ His poems and letters continued to speak of many affairs, but more and more often partners required payment. “In Defiance” (Naperekor, 1.12.1980) was inspired by “music of the young boy’s body,” but when the youth disappeared, Pereleshin commented: “I should have given more money (I have...

  8. Abbreviations
    (pp. 293-294)
  9. Notes
    (pp. 295-346)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 347-376)
  11. Index
    (pp. 377-391)