Photo from Artyom Popov’s album
“They set the mufflers and grips to the plywood model and think that I will believe that it is a Russian stove. Not that time! And the kolkhoz woman, look at them, is sleeping under a blanket in a duvet cover with richelieu embroidery – this is the Great Patriotic War! ” – After these words, my aunt Manya, a village pensioner, angrily turns off the TV, completely disappointed in the recent film adaptation of the novel by Fyodor Abramov.
And the real (read – worth it!) Modern fiction about the Russian hinterland, the village and the day with the fire must be sought. You will suddenly come across a village story on the Internet, you will start reading with enthusiasm – and it does not leave a feeling: whether it is a splinter or a parody of the village and its inhabitants. And it went, and flat. And the annoying feeling of forgery, incompetent forgery has not left you for a long time.
However, there is real literature about the lives of ordinary people. And proof of this is the recently published book by the North Dvina writer Artyom Popov with the intriguing title “Vanya the Frenchman” (all the more intriguing because the cover depicts the most Russian Vanya in tarpaulin boots sitting on a stump with a basket of mushrooms).
Eyes to eyes, on one level
Admittedly, when I first picked up Artyom Popov’s book (then a collection of short stories “Izbachikha 2020”), I was a little skeptical: that there is a citizen who graduated from Pomeranian University and works as a spokesman for the Council of Deputies of Severodvinsk, the last inhabitants of the Russian village “- so it was stated in the abstract – will be able to write something?
Of course, she was not afraid that the heroes would walk in sandals, linen shirts and sundresses, live in a black hut and wash in the bath with kiln ash. It was scary to see the splinter again.
But after reading the first stories, the fears disappeared without a trace: the author knows and feels the life of the countryside and its inhabitants. And it’s not just about the right picture and accuracy in detail. It’s not even about the artistic value of stories and creative discoveries, although they undoubtedly take place.
I am talking about that special worldview and worldview, about that special dialectic that has been inherent in the rural Russian world for centuries and which was conveyed with such depth and genuine pain by representatives of “rural prose”: Viktor Astafyev, Vasily Belov, Fyodor Abramov, Valenti. And Artyom Popov continues their best traditions in his work.
This deep Russian world is carefully and reverently depicted in Artyom Popov’s new book. That is why the works of the writer are taken for granted. “I went through life again, as if I was a participant in all the sketches described in the book. In the end it brought tears to my eyes. Uncomplicated life in self-sacrifice “, – Olga Fedorovna Belyaeva, the 83-year-old inhabitant of the village of Mardarovo of the Arkhangelsk region responds to stories.
The writer is interested in ordinary people, in whom he seeks to find what makes them full of high spirituality. “For eight years, working for the newspaper, I chased a sensation, and the heroes of my stories at that time were close – they are the simplest people living their difficult ordinary lives. And with this mundaneness they are brought to tragedy, ”the author writes about his heroes, and looks at them with sadness, genuine attention and hope that life lessons will make them more tolerant of other people and demanding of themselves.
Even the most seemingly lost, useless, as some of the characters may seem to us, the author does not look down, not from the height of his education and the status of a member of two trade unions – journalists and writers in Russia. It’s a face-to-face look, on one level. Without brotherhood, flirtation and indulgence – that’s what I say, understanding and democratic, I shake hands with a village drunkard and do not frown.
“Everyone lives their own, confuses
I remembered the words of people who had never condemned my wise acquaintance, grandmother Anna: “Everyone lives his own, confuses his own.” He confuses, makes mistakes, suffers, carries his cross – and that is why it is necessary to feel sorry for him.
Pity the lonely Natasha (“A Thousand Years, Eighteen Hours”) with her uncomplicated and naive love for the young guide Kirill, whose face the woman did not see because of the medical mask hiding his face (kovid after all!), Only his eyes looked – black, coffee color. She touched the young man only once, casually, accidentally, handing over government underwear on the train.
Pity the untidy bean Semyon in faded family shorts, fluttering on skinny legs like sails (“Paradise Delight”).
To feel sorry for Lenka Starishcha from “Native Lighthouses” – he spent his whole life on the collective farm breaking, saving on everything, and accumulated on the savings book and all for funerals and memorial services.
To pity the former cattleman Petrusha with a broken, crooked nose, nicknamed Baran – God did not give the mind to man (“Blessed”).
Everyone who lives this difficult simple life, feel sorry for, try to understand – or at least not condemn.
Acute instinct to someone else’s pain
The author does not give direct assessments and ready-made categorical recipes for how to live, does not press and does not stifle edification. The main feature of the writer’s nature is a keen sense of another’s pain, the innate wisdom of a high and kind soul. To understand his views and thoughts, you need to listen to the voices of the heroes of his stories: autistic Andreyka and Zhenya-bus driver, Vanya French and gravedigger Jacob, grandmother Dusi and hunter Lyokha…
The writer usually does not give his reader comforting answers to the difficult questions posed in the stories. Not everything in life is clear to him. But there are values in his prose that the author is sure of.
One of the main values is labor. Evdokia (“Terpelivitsa”), Anyushka and Lenko (“Native Beacons”) have worked tirelessly all their lives. Teacher Klavdiya Mikhailovna puts a part of her huge soul (“Clivia”) into each little student. Ambulance paramedic Dima has been saving lives for many years and remains faithful to the medical oath even when he has to pull out the driver – the culprit of the accident in which the girl Tanya died (“Boot on wet asphalt”).
Artyom Popov’s autobiographical stories are filled with special warmth, insight and depth. There are several of them in the collection “Vanya the Frenchman”: “Suddenly the wizard При will arrive”, “The patient”, “Native beacons”, “Cloud”. They are dedicated to the dear author, people who have already left this world, and even animals – the story “Cloud” about the cat Stepa.
The details of Artyom Popov’s stories make him extraordinarily alive and warm: a lace cape from flies on the face of a boy who woke up in the morning, a bird on his beakless (“Blessed”); a pine cone stuck to the wheel of a car, and braids of woven onion heads drying on the sunny side of the house (“Vanya the Frenchman”); the acrid smell of wormwood and nettles near my grandfather’s barn over a stream overgrown with thick cherry trees (“Explorer”); a skinny striped mattress with falling gray cotton wool inside on Semyon’s narrow metal bed (“Paradise Delight”). Sometimes these details are so tangible, so heartbreaking, that you can not hold back tears. And long after reading the story before my eyes, the same bunch of bananas on the hospital bedside table, never touched by my grandmother (“Patient”); city gingerbread, crumbled on Anyushka’s grave, – she didn’t eat during her life, let her be happy at least now (“Native beacons”); a warm and dry (in the rain!) hand of a friend, who without words helps to climb the clay soaked after the rain to the high bank of the river Varzhega (“Notes not a hunter”).
And in Vologda not printed…
Artyom Popov is a realist writer. It is all the more interesting when he comes into contact with symbolism, looking for new forms of depiction of reality in it. And even elements of fiction appear, as, for example, in the story “Rebellion”, which opens the book.
“Revolt” about a problem that affects everyone – the construction of landfills. The topic is sick, relevant. In Artyom Popov’s story, the local authorities decided to build a landfill on a former state farm field near the village of Gorbatovo. Most recently, Shies was in Pomorie, now such a problem has arisen in the Vologda region, in the Velikoustyug district, where the writer’s parents, where he spent his childhood, where he goes every summer on vacation. It was in Vologda that Artyom Popov wanted to publish his new book. And for the first time he encountered difficulties: the local publishing house, to which he turned, refused, calling the “Rebellion” a pamphlet. The book with a circulation of 300 copies was published in Moscow by the publishing house “Fairytale Road” by our compatriot Nikolai Redkin. The foreword to it was written by Anastasia Astafyeva, a member of the Union of Russian Writers. The author of the bright illustration on the cover is Oksana Heylik, a member of the Union of Artists of Russia.
“It’s time to write a story…”
There are 17 stories in Artyom Popov’s new collection. In general, stories and essays are the author’s favorite genre. Sometimes he worries: his older comrades have been scolding him for a long time, saying that it’s time to write a story, it’s time…
On this occasion, I remember the words of Chekhov, who, half-jokingly and not without some pride, said: “Good for you, today’s writers. You are now praised for short stories. And I used to be scolded for it. Yes, as scolded! Sometimes, if you want to be called a writer, write a novel like that, otherwise they won’t talk or listen about you, and they won’t let you into a good magazine. I punched all of you in the forehead for little stories. ”
I am sure that if the author suddenly has a narrow framework of the story (as a genre, of course), then there will be stories, novels. Gradually, without directives and self-violence. In general, writing a good, capacious and complete story is a real art, no less than a multi-page story. Or even a novel. And the author owns this art completely. And awakens the reader’s conscience and thought with his stories, written with a loving, sensitive heart. And he will continue to wake up: I know that at least two wonderful stories – “When the Stork Orchestra Plays” and “Zadurila” – for one reason or another are not included in the collection “Vanya Frenchman” and are waiting for their turn.
And even when Artyom Popov’s book “Vanya Frantsuz” is read from cover to cover, put away on a bookshelf – the deep Russian rural world will remain with us. He will fly away like a weightless bird from the helmet of a naive boy. It will give a floral spirit of July weeds with a spicy taste of tavolga and St. John’s wort bitterness. Burns with the tongues of raspberry flame of Ivan tea in an overgrown village. On a sensitive autumn night, he whispers something native, sad and disturbing, like a weightless leaf falling from a mountain ash under the window of his grandfather’s house. He growls like a dove perched on a blackened prince’s roof. It will ring with a rusty ring on the door of an abandoned house, across which is a wooden whip.
It will remain – to remember our origins, our roots. In order not to forget them and not to lose them forever.
Irina KEMAKOVA, poet, member of the Union Russian writers, Krechetovo village Kargopol district