Blessed City of Mikhail Zoshchenko

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August 9 is the birthday of a great Soviet satirist Mikhail Zoshchenko. Zoshchenko lived in Kazakhstan a year and a half of his sixty-four years of life, more precisely, he resided in Alma-Ata city. Finally, he started writing the main book of his life Before Sunrise. 

"I took twenty heavy notebooks with me. I tore cloth-covered bindings off to reduce their weight. Still, they weighed about eight kilograms of twelve kilograms of allowed luggage for the air plane. There was a moment when I just grieved that I took this stuff instead of warm underpants and an extra pair of boots. I brought my manuscript to Central Asia in a ragged black bag, to the blessed city of Alma-Ata”.

Like a Skeleton

When Zoshchenko arrived to Alma-Ata, he was thin, looking like a skeleton. Lydia Chalova, whom Zoshchenko met in Almaty and he called her as his "wife", said: “When I saw Mikhail for the first time, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I saw the dystrophic people in Leningrad, I was close to dystrophy myself, but here, so far from the war areas, it was impossible to see such a thin person.  I asked him how he was able to bring himself to such condition? He said that he gets four hundred grams of bread, from which half is taken by himself and another half is exchanged for half a litre of milk and an onion... I called the doctor. He identified: dystrophy and issued a medical certificate. Due to this document, the Script Department (Zoshchenko worked for CUFS - Central United Film Studio - auth.) procured a month food supply for Mikhail from the hospital. The food was so abundant and sufficient for two of us. However this month expired and it was necessary to apply for the new food supply, but Mikhail suddenly objected. It was necessary to go to the Trade Department, but he did not want to ask, did not want to write an application. He said that it was inconvenient during the war. I said: "Maybe it is convenient to die of dystrophy during the war in Alma-Ata?" Finally, I forced him to write an application to the Trade Department. I took the application and here I come. I was asked: “How is it possible- Zoshchenko is in Alma-Ata? For a year? We are not aware of it... ". 

Besides being physically exhausted, the writer suffered badly from unusual attitude and pressure    problems. Zoshchenko stopped in the streets, catching at heart, waiting, when the pain goes away... Yet, many times he refused from moving to Tashkent. In fact, he suddenly found himself the unexpected and unusual, almost family comfort in Alma-Ata. The reason was a woman he loved and the fact that he had the required time to write his main book. Zoshchenko was fir-sly accommodated at the House of Soviets Hotel; it was located at the corner of current Kabanbay Batyr and Panfilov Streets.

However, it was extremely hard to reside there. Almost the entire Mosfilm team, together with “creams of USSR literature” lived in that hotel. A poet Vladimir Lugovskoy said about the House of Soviets: "We live in the bedlam, stuffed with the homeless people". "The people, who worked together before the war, knew each other well, stayed at the hotel,” recalled L. Chalova. “Of course, it means noise everywhere, late meetings, unapologetically walking from room to room. Mikhail felt bad there, he was not used to such a lifestyle. He was nervous, irritated, he could not work.

Then, seeing no other option, he made an unusual decision: he asked the Union of Writers for assistance. It coincided with the fact that just the same days a philosophy professor from Alma-Ata University ( current Abai State University- author) U.M. Balkashev submitted a letter, proposing his office to one of the evacuated writers. He was moving to Moscow to work for  Permanent Kazakh Mission, and he decided to do such a good deed. The room was small, but very cozy: there was a desk, chair, couch and a library. What else is needed for the work and leisure?"

Aldar-Kose speaks Russian

While staying in Balkashev’s apartment, Zoshchenko not only wrote the articles on the front-line topic, not only he worked on the book, but he also studied the Kazakh folk humour. Today, probably, only a few of us know that the first translation of Kazakh folk tales about "beardless trickster" Aldar Kose was made by Mikhail Zoshchenko... 

A year later, the book Before Sunrise was finished. Zoshchenko did not know that this book would bring him such pain, which he would not be able to cope with, and which would bring him to his grave in the end. In 1943, the first chapters of the novel were published in the October Magazine. A wave of criticism raised. The Bolshevik Journal wrote: "Zoshchenko wanders  as a junkman among the human trash, looking for the worst samples. There are few people in the Soviet Union, who would find the time to engage in "psychological picking" in the days of the struggle for the honour and independence of our country.  However, a "punishing sword of people’s wrath"touched the "criminal" with all its power only in August of 1946. Zoshchenko was labelled as a propagandist of "lack of principles, vulgarity and political apathy" and he was expelled from the Union of Writers, as well as from all the journals, for which he worked and the publishing house terminated the contract for his book and recalled the advance payment.


He was not given any job, even as a cobbler, as well as his wife, who also had his family name. "We know well the face of Zoshchenko and his misconduct during the war, when Zoshchenko, hidden far away, was not helping the Soviet people and he wrote such a loathsome thing as Before Sunrise," -said Zhdanov, who was an ideologist of the time.


Zhdanov lied without shame. The writer fought the Nazis with his weapon - a pen of the satire: he wrote the stories and satires, exposing the Hitlerism. They were published in the Crocodile, Ogoniok and in other periodicals, while his story The Cuckoo was published in the New Year issue of Kazakhstanskaya Pravda in 1941. In addition, the writer could not participate in the battles because of the health condition as the consequence of the First World War. In 1915, Zoshchenko volunteered to the army, as he recalled later, "to die with dignity for own country, for the home-land." On the eve of the February Revolution, he was already the battalion commander, a knight of the four military orders, the Staff Captain...

Zoshchenko did not forget the hospitable city after he left Alma-Ata. He wrote in his article On the humour in literature: "Humour is inherent by the Kazakh people at the highest degree and therefore, it shall occupy its rightful place in the literature." Zoshchenko really wished a satire theatre to be founded in Kazakhstan. Unfortunately, he was not able to see his dream come true during his lifetime...

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