Lydia Chukovskaya (1907 - 1996) was of Jewish origin and was the daughter of a beloved writer of children’s books in Russia. Lydia married Matvei Bronstein, a promising young physicist. In the late 1930s, Bronstein was arrested as a part of Stalin’s purges, and was put to death as an enemy of the Communist Party. The government refused to give Lydia any information about her husband, and for a number of years, she did not know that her husband had been executed.
Lydia Chukovskaya as a young woman.
Between 1939 and 1940, Chukovskaya wrote her most famous work, the novella Sofia Petrovna. Sofia Petrovna is the widow of a medical doctor. After the Communist Revolution, her apartment is confiscated by the government and divided up among several families. Sofia and her son, Kolya, live in a single room of their former house in Leningrad.
Lydia's husband, Matvei Bronstein, who was executed by the Stalinist Regime
Lydia Chukovskaya and her daughter in the 1940s.
Lydia Chukovskaya, the Soviet Dissident, in the mid 1960s
The picture of Soviet life under Stalin is fascinating. Religion has been banned, so Soviet citizens put up “New Year’s Trees” which are topped by a Red Star. The Christ child has been replaced by pictures of “the Child Lenin.” Children are given candy with a card which says “Thank You Comrade Stalin for giving us a Happy Childhood.”
The story of how Chukovskaya’s manuscript survived is just as interesting as the novella. After her husband’s arrest and execution, Lydia fled her home in Leningrad. The manuscript was hidden in a friend's house. The friend died of starvation during the German seige of Leningrad but the manuscript was discovered and was finally returned to Chuskovskaya after the war. During the political thaw introduced by Kruschev in the early sixties, Sofia Petrovna was prepared for publication. However, it was decided that enough anti-Stalin literature had been published and publication was tabled. A manuscript of the novel was smuggled out of the Soviet Union and was published by a French publisher without Chuskovskaya permission under the title “The Deserted House.”
Sofia Petrovna is a very good novel which deserves a wide readership and is a warning why we must be ever vigilant against tyranny.