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Russian Love Stories

Everything that I understand, I understand only because I love.
      -- Leo Tolstoy (1828 - 1910)

What force is more potent than love?
      -- Igor Stravinsky (1882 - 1971)

What is it about Russians and love? Whether ice skaters or scientists, poets or composers, novelists or philosophers, Russians are known for their passions.

Natalia Vodianova
Twenty-year-old Natalia Vodianova is a superstar model and the face of Calvin Klein international. Her fairytale story is about a girl who once sold fruit and vegetables on the street in Nizhni Novgorod, an industrial town outside of Moscow. Her story is also a success story. She moved to Paris and then New York and quickly found fame and riches.

It is also a love story, a story of how she met and fell in love with Justin Portman, 32, an English aristocrat [whose family owns 45 hectares of property north of Oxford Street and south of Regent's Park], had his baby and married him last year in a lavish wedding in St Petersburg that lasted three days. Tom Ford made her dress in pale grey satin with silver thread. The guests, who came from Paris, London, New York and Nizhni Novgorod, were dazzled by the revelries, the highlight of which was a private performance by the stars of the Kirov Ballet held in the throne room of Peter the Great in the Peterhof Palace.

Viktoria Tokareva
Though little of her work has yet been published in English translation, contemporary writer and dramatist Viktoria Tokareva is seen as a rising star today in Russia. She cites Chekhov as her guide and teacher. Tokareva, a native of Leningrad writes romantic fiction -- short stories, films and television plays and novellas.

While Tokareva never philosophizes at length, her work is rich in perceptive and striking insights into both individual psychology and changing social conditions... "My theme," she says... "is nostalgia (toska) for the ideal.... It might seem that love does not depend on the political system, but it turns out that everything is embedded in society, and love is no exception."
      -- JRL/Johnson's Russia List

Tokareva's The Talisman and Other Tales (Rosamund Bartlett, translator) was published by Pan Macmillan in 1993.

Ian Fleming's From Russia, With Love
From Russia, With Love was Ian Fleming's 5th book about Agent 007; it became the 2nd James Bond film. The film was released theatrically on May 2, 1964. The story, of Bond's attempts to thwart the enemy from seizing a decoder that can access Russian state secrets, is a classic Cold War thriller. Italian actress Daniela Bianchi played Bond girl "Tatiana Romanova."

Bella Akhmadulina
In 1933 poet Ivan Bunin became the first Russian to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. Pasternak won in 1958, although he was later forced to decline the award. Joseph Brodsky, another poet, took the award in 1987 for his emotional verse. In 2003, there were no less than five Russians - three poets and two writers of prose -- in the running for the Nobel Prize in Literature (which eventually was awarded to Joseph Maxwell Coetzee of South Africa). One of these candidates was poet Bella Akhmadulina:

The captivating (Akhmadulina) writes about unrequited love, purity and solitude. Her poetic voice is as cold and clear as a brook bubbling in the snowy wilderness. For many years she was as popular as a pop star and her stadium recitals often reduced audiences to tears. Wrapped in black furs, with Tartar blood running in her veins, Akhmadulina's verse pierced the heart like a dagger. Today she is no longer so popular, as new times have brought with them songs, and her refined work is lost on many people. The denim generation has no use for brocade.
      -- Pravda

See Contemporary Russian Poetry: A Bilingual Anthology (by Gerald S. Smith, Indiana University Press, 1993) for work by Akhmadulina and others.

Kapitolina Panfilova
Kapitolina Panfilova met Scottish soldier Thomas McAdam at a dance hall in Archangel, Russia, in 1944. He was a British sailor helping to re-supply the Red Army as they fought against Germany. Months after he shipped out, Kapitolina gave birth to their son, Stepan. McAdam never even knew she was pregnant. But as punishment for fraternizing with a foreigner, Panfilova was sent to a Siberian prison camp for three years. After returning to her young son, she didn't reveal the truth about his father until more than fifty years later.

Sadly, although they did locate his nephew, they learned that McAdam had died in 1980. The families have met, swapped photographs and created connections. And Kapitolina admits to no regrets. "I was never sorry about loving Thomas," she said. "Even in the hardest times, I always remembered him with love."

Vitaly Sumin
Filmmaker Vitaly Sumin abandoned a career as an oceanographer to pursue his dream of storytelling. His independent film Shades of Day is based on Dostoevsky's novel White Nights, a classic which has inspired adaptations in the past, most notably Lucino Visconti's film starring Marcello Mastroianni, an award winning entry in the 1957 Venice Film Festival. Sumin's adaptation is the first to translate the story from 19th century Russia to contemporary America.

Shades Of Day is a Hollywood fable with elements of suspense that crosses and re-crosses the thin line that separates tragedy from comedy. The film introduces us to the enchanting Linda, whose life is centered around a planned reunion with her former lover Paul. Her plans change in remarkable ways as she encounters a cast of extraordinary characters, including a new lover and a movie producer pursued by the Mafia.

"We all look for love as long as we live," says Sumin. "When I exchanged my well-paid job as senior oceanographer for the 'Hollywood dream,' I believe I too looked for love. It may be I just wanted to tell people of this world that I love them and ask for their love in return. Cinema seemed to be the most promising avenue for such a dialogue."

Essays + Interviews:
The Making of Doctor Zhivago | Russian Love Stories | Boris Pasternak

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