In Memoriam: Mikhail Sholokhov

The 62-year-old writer Mikhail Sholokhov, renowned as the father of modern Russian literature, died in 1965. There were only 70 men in his literary circle, and it was difficult for him to trust them. One of those who can never be far from his mind are Vladimir and Galina Garikova. And then there is Muratov.

At 37, Muratov became the author of two stories from The Guardian, and though he never went on to win a Nobel Prize, those two short stories in particular have a life of their own. Grigory Pasko was the second Russian writer to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, in 1999, and they are both Russian, but as Pasko told The New York Times in the 2000s, “l’homme est en poidre”—“and there’s nothing I can do about it.”

Thirty-seven years later, thanks in part to Muratov’s work, and his own story selection, the Nobel Prize was not announced before the final day of the Academy’s selection process for this year’s prize. And it seems that Muratov’s profile has only risen since then.

Muratov, on stage in June at the Shanghai Writers Festival. (Photo: Yann Thun)

The obituary of the Russian novelist Vladimir Dubost, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1996, was selected because he had just died.

Well, Muratov also died, in 2014, and he is now gone. And he lives on.

Vladimir and Galina Garikova share a moment in New York City’s Bergdorf Goodman in 2014. (Photo: Eamonn McCabe for The New York Times)

This is not really news; a recent book, Russian Approaches to the Pain of Loss, analyzes the best and most compelling contemporary Russian literature, and presents Muratov’s work in its entirety. While it doesn’t claim to be biography, the book is about Muratov and makes these additions to the literary canon. In the first volume of this series, Vol. 1, released in May 2016, author Maxim Fedotov named Muratov his favorite Russian writer.

In the second volume, Vol. 2, Fedotov looks more closely at the work of Muratov and his wife, Galina Gordeeva, and highlights how their lives made their names and how their work reflects the essence of their relationship.

The book spends almost 40 pages looking at the 60-year-old Gordeeva, and about 25 of these is devoted to Muratov. It is the focus of this article.

When Muratov was younger, Gordeeva, 55, was his muse. She wrote all his main characters; Muratov couldn’t write without her, so he had to woo her. Yet before he would write, he would hang out with her alone. “Like a spider and a moth,” he told Fedotov, “we would dissolve into each other’s backs.” While he could write while they were together, his work suffered.

Shostakovich and Muratov in 1976. (Photo: LIFE.COM)

A lot of Russians believe that Muratov was simply a teenager when Shostakovich, the most important Russian composer of the 20th century, asked him to rewrite some of his Symphony No. 4, also known as the Preludes, for St. Petersburg Symphony Orchestra, which he had directed from 1946 to 1950. After a half-hour, Muratov had written 40 minutes of music that he wasn’t happy with. He did it over a weekend at the village art colony that was his summer home. Shostakovich liked the first two portions of the score.

In his book, Fedotov emphasizes that Muratov’s fame and talent began with Shostakovich’s first choice for his assistant conductor, Ivan Morozov. “Ivan was criticized for having bad piano technique,” Morozov said, “but no one blamed Muratov. For Shostakovich, there was nothing special about Muratov except that he was interested.”

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