1925 – 1939
The Lure of the Motherland
1927 – 1939
Sickly and unemployed Sergey Efron idled around town. He was never able to hold down a gainful job. Money simply didn't interest him. For a while he continued acting as an editor for a Prague émigré journal. In 1930 he earned himself a certificate as camera man in film making. Tsvetaeva was proud of him, but nothing came of it. Towards the end of 1930 he took a job as a physical laborer, but soon lost that too. Marina rarely mentions Sergey's misfortunes, and somehow he seems to have been completely indifferent to their poverty.
It comes as no surprise
then that Sergey became attracted to various expatriate
organizations: new friends, long political discussions, the lure of
the New Russia. The most important one was the Eurasian
The Eurasians rejected Communism but not the Revolution itself. Their
Messianic vision was that an “Eurasian Russia” would
overcome both. When the movement split towards the end of the
twenties, Sergey joined the “left”, pro-Soviet wing. For
a year Sergey was the editor of their journal Eurasia.
was not unsympathetic to the movement and was friends with several of
its members. The summer of 1930 they spent at a camp of the Eurasians
in the Savoie. At home they had unending, often bitter arguments
about a return to the Motherland. Everyone was for it except Marina.
The Soviet Union had a large number of enthusiastic admirers among the idealistic, left-wing European intellectuals, especially in France. Marina describes the ecstatic report of André Malraux from a visit to Stalin's Moscow. In this intellectual climate the idea of returning to the Motherland had much popular support among the Russian expatriats, and the NKVD took advantage of that. They seem to have infiltrated the left wing of the Eurasians as early as 1930. In their Savoie summer camps they supported political re-education classes. Many Russians left France during the folowing six years. Those who knew too much were imprisoned or shot on arrival in Odessa.
Alya had grown up into
a accomplished graphic artitst. Marina spared no money on her
education. Salomeya Andronikova found her a job. In opposition to her
mother Alya drifted more and more towards Sergey's views. In November
1934 Alya (22) and Marina had a fierce argument. Marina finally
slapped Alya for a particularly contemptuous outburst. Sergey in a
furious rage, took Alya's side. [VS
After this Alya left their apartment. She would be the first who put
her pro-Soviet convictions into practice.
Little is known for certain of Sergey's being recruited by the NKVD. He did not confide into Marina, who knew, as a matter of course, of his increasing radical fanaticism. Viktoria Schweitzer describes an interview with the daughter of the Bogengardts' [VS p.328]. She told her of a secretive meeting between Sergey and her father in 1935, in which Sergey confessed his collaboration – Bogengardt never saw him again. Unsubstantiated rumors in Russia [VB] accuse Sergey of having actively participated in recruiting for the NKVD and the Spanish civil war.
Marina bore the role of being the sole provider of her family. During 1927-1938 she rented one dismal, cheap apartment after the other in the Meudon area outside of Paris. So it was a true disaster when the Czech government notified her in 1929 that her stipend would end, unless she returned to Prague. After protracted negotiations, friends in Prague persuaded the authorities to continue paying her 500 kronen per month, half of the original stipend.[VS p.286]
Once or twice a month she would give poetry readings, her own and those of other contemporary Russian writers. These readings were sometimes arranged by friends. The most generous among them was Salomeya Andronikova, a member of an old Georgian noble family, who from 1926 to 1935 sent Tsvetaeva a monthly sum of 300 ffr from her own pocket and occasionally another 300 ffr that she collected from friends. To put this sum into perspective, the rent for their apartment was around 100 ffr. Marina had no compunction to beg for money. From a note to Salomeya we learn that she asked her to send an extra 80 ffr for a pair of solid shoes.[VS p.317]. Salomeya denied her nothing. She gave her clothes and furniture, and helped to find a publisher for Marina's only book to appear in France.
From 1923 to 1939 Marina had one close personal friend in Anna Tesková in Prague. She shared all her tribulations and small successes with Anna in uncounted letters, the largest source for her difficult 14 years in France. These letters affected me very much. They are of no interest here, but I went through similar experiences between 1945 and 1951 as the oldest of four siblings in Germany, although mother was more down to earth and did not write poetry. A horrible time, unimaginable if one has not gone through years of hunger, cramped quarters, an emotionally paralyzed father, and utter poverty.
To keep herself alive Marina still managed to write, mostly at night. A list of her poems and prose writings from these years can be found under Sources and References. After the large Prague Poema she wrote predominantly prose. She published her poems of 1922-1925 in book form, After Russia, (1927) with Salomeya Andronikova's financial help. Even the small edition of 500 copies that were printed of the book did not sell. During 1932 – 1939 she wrote four poem cycles: Poems to a Son (1932), Poems to an Orphan (1936), Desk (1937), and Poems to the Czechens (1938/39) and a few single poems. She complains many times to Teskova that taking care of her daily family chores did not leave her enough room to jot down the lines that passed her mind. Besides nobody wanted to print her poems – the book had shown that they were unsaleable.
The first two cycles circle around Russia: the burning question of “to return or not to return.” When she wrote “Poems to a Son”, Mur was seven, even in Marina's eyes an unruly, rebellious child. He was too young to understand Marina's agonies. The poem must, therefore, have been directed equally at her other, grown-up “boy”, Sergey, who had spent eight months during 1931 in a Red-Cross sanatorium in the Haut Savoie, because of his tuberculosis.
Poems to a
“Everybody in the
family pressures me to return to Russia,” Marina wrote to Anna
Teskova, “I cannot go.” A few months later Sergey must
have made up his mind. He applied for a Soviet passport. His
application was rejected. He had to “earn” it first.
Marina never mentioned any of this to Teskova; she may not have known
of Sergey's involvement with the NKVD, besides mentioning it would
have been dangerous.
For a while Marina translated Russian poetry into French, her own and Pushkin, in the desparate hope of earning some money. After weeks of laboring she admited to Teskova that her efforts were dissatisfying, especially her work on her own poems. Then she tried to write poetry directly in French. A few of those have suvived: “Florentine Nights”, “Letter to an Amazon,” “Miracle with Horses,” (all 1932). In a letter to Rilke (July 26, 1926) she had characterized the three languages at her disposal: “...French is, an ungrateful language for poets...”. Her French poems are dry, cold, - in short “soulless”.
How much she longed for the love a kindred man who could follow her poetic flights! Pasternak was too distracted by his disintegrating marriage and moreover was terrified of the authorities. Their correspondence never rekindled. And then came the “catastroph”: Boris divorced his wife (1931) and fell in love with a woman friend of theirs who was already married. Marina was indignant and irate. “Zhenya (his wife) was there before me, but to love another – no way! Boris is incapable of loving. For him love – is suffering. I am not jealous. I no longer feel any acute pain – only emptiness.” She writes to Anna Teskova.
In June 1935 Pasternak was obliged by Stalin to attend the “International Congress of Writers in Defence of Culture” - ten days in Paris! Marina seems to have avoided him, and he ran scared of the political watchdog who headed the Soviet delegation. Rumors have it that he “saw” her in a corridor of his hotel. He is supposed to have whispered: “Marina, don't return to Russia, it's cold there, there's a constant draught.” - Marina wrote Anna, “It was a non-meeting...” - and left for the sea-shore with a sick Mur (he had had his appendix removed).
Her Тоска, nostalgia, homesickness for the Motherland was different from Alya's and Sergey's. She had few illusions. The Russia she loved and longed for was gone, the house on Tryokhprudny Lane had been razed and replaced by a shoddy apartment building. The people she loved had left, were alienated, or dead. She carried her Russia in her soul. For her there was nothing to be found in the new “Rodina”. In 1934 she wrote a poem that expressed her loss:
for the Motherland.
A year later she expressed her aversion even more vehemently:
и не отмщу
never revenged and never will avenge myself-
In the hope that prose would be more acceptable and bring in better money, she wrote a number of articles. Some of her pieces were printed in various journals. But the life span of the journals was ususally short, and often enough her honorarium vanished with their demise. Her prose pieces are peculiar: sharply voiced opinions, mostly unpopular ones, alternate with lyrical evocations of an equally personal quality. They invariably made her more enemies in émigré circles than friends. A list linked to the originals is found in my Sources and References.
Alya, encouraged by her
fanatic father, became determined to return to the USSR. “What
can they do to me? I am innocent. Your dark tales are only
anti-Soviet propaganda.” Recalcitrant as she was, with her 25
years she needed to assert herself and break free of her unyielding
mother. She had no problem in obtaining a Soviet passport, they
needed people like her. She left in March 1937, seen off by a
cheerful group of friends and well-wishers. Only Marina was full of
The following twenty-four months of 1937-1939 are a blur, a single catastrophe. Marina's letters and notes give no indication of what happened between her and Sergey. All evidence is based on unsubstantiated hearsay and rumors. Viktoria Schweitzer [VS p.337] tried to reconstruct that period. She doubts that Marina knew anything, but feels certain that in the very end Sergey and she talked.
On September 4, 1937 Ignaty Reyss, a Soviet agent who refused return to the USSR, was murdered in Switzerland. Efron was accused by the Swiss and French police to have been instrumental in shadowing Reyss. It later emerged that he had also been involved in tracking down Trotsky's son, L. Sedov. Efron was interrogated by the French police. After the first interrogation Efron disappeared. Apparently he was spirited by the NKVD to the USSR. He had no choice, they held Alya as a hostage.
A bizarre account of the details of his disappearance appeared in the Parisian emigrant newspaper Renaissance on October 29, 1937 [Sergey disappeared on 29 September 1937]. According to this article Marina and Mur were in the Russian embassy car with Sergey that was taking them to Le Havre. Near Rouen Sergey jumped from the car and fled. The Russian agents must have caught him quickly. He did not return. [VS p.337] - The immediate result of this was that everyone avoided contact with Marina.
A few weeks later Marina was interrogated by the French police. She is supposed to have told them, “Efron's trust may have been abused. My trust in him remains unchanged.” She read them translations of her prose writings to show her innocence. Apparently she convinced the police that she knew nothing. Marina was cleared and let go.
But there was, of course, no chance that she and Mur could remain in France. The question of her return to the motherland had been decided for her. She was a possibly dangerous witness. Two members of her family were practically under house arrest in the USSR. The NKVD, barely veiled, pressured her to return and even gave her a small allowance during the summer. After Sergey's disappearance she and Mur lived in the small Hotel Inova in Paris. She dedicated her last poem cycle, Poems to the Czechs, Стихи к Чехии (1938-39), to the sufferings of Bohemia before and during the German invasion in March 1939. Hurriedly she distributed her manuscripts among friends in France and Switzerland. She visited and arranged for up-keep of the graves of the Efrons in Paris, Sergey's parents and brother.
Their final departure was delayed for three days. The Soviet embassy needed to make sure nobody interfered or saw her off. She wrote a last letter to Anna Teskova standing on the train to Le Havre. They left Le Havre on June 12, 1939
A last stanza from her Poems to an Orphan - Стихи о сироте
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