She was shocked by the complexity of her own emotions, alternately love and relief: It’s a strange thing, but during those days of illness when he was nothing but a body out of which the soul had flown and later, during the days of leave-taking in the Hall of Columns, I loved my father more tenderly than I ever had before. . . . During those days, when he found peace at last on his deathbed and his face became beautiful and serene, I felt my heart breaking from grief and love. Neither before nor since have I felt such a powerful welling up of strong, contradictory emotions.14 Perhaps she saw the face of the man he might have been had he not, as she felt, subsumed all his humanity to an idea—the idea of Stalin, the symbol of Soviet power. And strangely, she felt guilt—she had not been a good daughter. “I’d been more like a stranger than a daughter, and had never been a help to this lonely spirit, this sick old man, when he was left all alone on his Olympus.”15
On the evening of March 2, Dr. Yakov Rapoport was in his cell in Lefortovo Prison awaiting another torture session. He had been told that the hours for a “voluntary admission” of his guilt were running out. Stalin himself was following the course of his investigation, and was “displeased.” When his interrogator entered his cell, Rapoport was taken aback. He expected this was his end, but his torturer told him he needed his expert opinion. Would the doctor tell him what “Cheyne-Stokes respiration” was? Presumably Stalin’s doctors had ventured this as their diagnosis. Rapoport replied that it was “spasmodic, interrupted breathing,” found in infants and adults suffering “lesions of the respiratory centers in the brain . . . as in brain tumours, cerebral haemorrhages, uremia, or severe arteriosclerosis.” Could someone with such a condition recover? his interrogator asked. “In the majority of cases, death is inevitable,” Rapoport replied.11 He was asked to recommend a Moscow specialist to attend such a patient. He named eight specialists but said that, unfortunately, they were all in prison.
When they were finally alone, Brajesh told Svetlana, with a calm resignation that was both disconcerting and moving, “Sveta, I know that I will die today.” He said he had had a dream of a white bullock pulling a cart. In India when you have that dream, it means death is coming.22 She did not believe him. At seven a.m. that Monday, he pointed to his heart and then to his head and said that he could feel something throbbing. And then he died. Into her mind came the memory of her father’s death, the only other death she had witnessed. She recalled her father’s outrageous struggle, his fear in the face of death, his terrifying last gesture of accusation. Singh’s death was quick and peaceful, his last gesture toward his heart. She thought, Each man got the death he deserved. With Singh’s death, Svetlana felt that something had changed in her. “Some inner line of demarcation” had been drawn. Something was totally lost. She did not yet know what this meant. Oddly, she also felt a kind of peace. She did not cry.
I don’t know if she’d been summoned or if she came on her own. She found herself in the middle of a flock of people older than she, to put it mildly. As soon as this sober young woman arrived, Stalin made her dance. I could see she was tired. She hardly moved while dancing. She danced for a short time and tried to stop, but her father still insisted. She went over and stood next to the record player, leaning her shoulder against the wall. Stalin came over to her, and I joined them. We stood together. Stalin was lurching about. He said, “Well, go on, Svetlanka [sic], dance! You’re the hostess, so dance! She said, “I’ve already danced Papa, I’m tired.” With that, Stalin grabbed her by the forelock of her hair with his fist and pulled. I could see her face turning red and tears welling up in her eyes. . . . He pulled harder and dragged her back onto the dance floor.40
Svetlana looked at her father’s dacha with loathing. His rooms were ugly. In cheap frames on his walls he had huge photographs cut out from the magazine Ogonyok: a little girl with a calf, some children sitting on a bridge. Strangers’ children. Not a single photograph of his own grandchildren. The unchanging rooms—a couch, a table, chairs; a couch, a table, chairs—frightened her. The little party went off well, but Svetlana felt her father’s response to her daughter was indifference. He took one look at Katya and burst out laughing. Svetlana wondered if her father would have liked to be a family again. When she had fantasies of herself and her children living under the same roof with him, she realized that he was accustomed to the freedom of his solitude, which he claimed to have come to appreciate during his long Siberian exiles. “We could never have created a single household, the semblance of a family, a shared existence, even if we both wanted to. He really didn’t want to, I guess.”37
Of course, I asked him about it, very matter-of-factly. Yes, he fucked her once. So what?” Rozanova found it easy to blame Svetlana. She was “a hysterical woman—to have such a father.” Sinyavsky was just being a man. She recalled his famous joke. He used to say, “If I’m sitting in a train car with a woman, I have to make her an offer, as a polite human being.” Rozanova added that in a relationship, sexual fidelity “is not important. [This] is not what connects people. Without me he would not be able to work, nor live. To live—it is not the same as making soup.” But she would never forgive Svetlana. Svetlana didn’t seem to understand the sexual double standard that flourished everywhere in the 1950s and 1960s. She was the “sexually deranged” one, while the artist Sinyavsky was forgiven his sexual dalliance, necessary for his work, which had so raised her hopes. The women became rivals and enemies, while the husband stood blithely by. And Svetlana was far from unusual in believing that her only route to a creative life was adjacent to a man.
She was thirty-five. It is not a comfortable age. If one is still alone, one believes one will stay alone. Her children, now sixteen and eleven, were at school. Katya had her compulsory Pioneer meetings, and Joseph had joined the Komsomol. Svetlana recalled, “I was melancholy, irritable, inclined towards hopeless pessimism; more than once I had contemplated suicide; I was afraid of dark rooms, of the dead, of thunderstorms; of uncouth men, of hooligans in the streets and drunks. My own life appeared to me very dark, dull, and without a future.”2 Beneath Svetlana’s carefully controlled exterior, there existed sorrows and suspicions, rages and frustrations, psychic wounds that she did not know how to face, let alone heal.