Zoom Talk: "Three Mothers Learn of their Sons' Death in Combat" with Robert Chandler — University of Glasgow

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Robert Chandler will look at three accounts of a mother being told of her son’s death: Teffi’s 1916 portrayal of an uncomprehending peasant mother receiving a letter she is unable to read; Vasily Grossman’s portrayal in Life and Fate of Ludmila Shtrum’s overwhelming grief over the death of her son Tolya during the Battle of Stalingrad; and the poet Tatiana Voltsakaya’s recent evocation of how today’s Russian authorities try to insulate the population against the reality of death.



(Translation by Dmitri Manin.)

There will be no coffins. Our children will burn to ashes

In a mobile oven, and the smoke will swirl and waft

Over the fields of Ukraine where the black plume meshes

With the smoke of wildfire – up there, on the left.

Instead of the body, the doorbell will ring, a polite

Army captain will bring the ashes in a neat package 

And place it silently on the bookshelf, right

By the photo of a brave soldier with demob patches,

Turned a contractnik. The captain will open his briefcase,

With a jerk of his head, as if something bothered

Him, he’ll fish out a paper, establish a base

On the stool, hold it out: sign here for non-disclosure.

She’ll sign. He’ll pick up his briefcase and hustle on

Past the TV with a crooning pop singer clown

And a bunk bed where on top the younger son,

A ninth-grade student leans over and stares down

At him as intensely as if waiting for a box of his own.

~ ~ ~


Гробов не будет. Наших детей сожгут

В походной печке, а дым развеют

Над украинским полем, и чёрный жгут

Сольётся с дымом пожара – вон там, левее.

Вместо тела вежливый капитан,

Позвонив в квартиру, доставит пепел

В аккуратном пакете и молча положит там,

Под фотографией, где залихватский дембель

Перерос в контракт. Расстегнув портфель,

Вынет бумагу и, дёрнув шеей,

Будто что-то мешает, усядется, как на мель,

На табурет: подпишите неразглашенье.

Она подпишет. И он поспешит назад

Мимо телека с Басковым недопетым

И двухъярусной койкой, где младший брат,

Девятиклассник, с него не спускает взгляд,

Свесившись – будто ждет своего пакета