The following was written for the Japanese edition of Andrei Sakharov’s Memoirs.
It is difficult for me to write about Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov’s Memoirs. I do not have the proper distance from the book, almost no distance at all. Nor do I have the strength to try to look at it from the outside: Every time I pick up the book, even simply touching the cover, I am pierced by the painful realization that Andrei did not see it. I feel myself inside the book, and I perceive it as a child that came into the world through my efforts and was nursed through its illnesses, saved from evil, and miraculously survived. It may seem that I am exaggerating. But I am speaking not of the actual work I did during the years when Sakharov was writing this book, but of my attitude toward it, so that the reader will understand that I cannot be objective about it.
Of course, I see that the book is written unevenly, sometimes it is a bit too abstract, too dry. The two chapters largely about physics might seem unnecessary to some, even though there probably wasn’t single day in the life of Andrei Dmitrievich when he didn’t think about science, and there was a time when physics pushed everything else into the background. And sometimes I think the book lacks the explicit characterizations of certain people that I heard from him in our private conversations. But all that is made up for by the author’s absolute honesty, from the first line to the last, in evaluating his own thoughts, decisions, and actions. This is not the typical neurotic introspection of a twentieth-century intellectual, but reflects an extraordinary ability to judge himself soberly and even calmly, as if he were seeing himself inside and out. And then there is his voice. I say voice even though I realize a book is not a record, but you can hear Andrei Dmitrievich’s voice in the book. I am thrilled that several of his friends spoke to me specifically of his voice after they read it.
The author’s foreword states that the book was begun in the summer of 1978, and the date at the end of the book is February 15, 1983. This is both true and not true. Early in our life together we agreed never to travel separately. But life decided otherwise. Since we had many enforced separations, Andrei decided to write a diary for me. In late December 1975, after I went to Italy for eye surgery and to Oslo, where I represented Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov at the ceremony for the Nobel Peace Prize, I read the thick notebook with a dark blue cover which Andrei had filled up over those four months.
When I finished, I regretted that it was so short. That regret quickly grew into resentment that Andrei had not kept a diary as a teen-ager, a student, a young man—all his life. His first diary at the age of fifty-four! My resentment was not directed at anyone in particular, but I expressed it to him along with my gratitude. Now I can’t even remember which I felt the more. But I do remember Andrei arguing in the late night commuter train (we were living in Novogireyevo on the outskirts of Moscow—or rather, just spending nights there, while our life went on in the crowded and cramped apartment on Chkalov Street) that when Leo Tolstoy and Dostoevsky write diaries they are of interest, but when anyone else does, he does so out of an inferiority complex. And Andrei used to say, whether seriously or jokingly, that he got rid of all his complexes in August 1971. However, there was something that he liked about the work, and he kept a diary during all our other separations and even sometimes when we were together.
He usually made his entries at night and then brought the notebook to bed for me to read. Sometimes he asked me to fill in the blanks. Once, when I was very sleepy, I said that it wasn’t proper for him to give me his diary to read and that a diary is written for the writer alone, to which Andrei replied, “You are me.” He had heard those words of the writer Yuri Olesha from me after he met Olesha’s widow, Olga Suok, in Peredelkino, where I was renting a dacha for my mother and my son. That was still in the days when I called him Andrei Dmitrievich, even though he called me Lusia from our first meeting.
In 1977 we lived through a second lengthy separation. I was in Italy again, for a second eye operation in that country (my third altogether). When I got back, another fat blue notebook was waiting for me. This time as I read it I suddenly realized that it was pointless for me to regret the absence of diaries for the part of his life that Andrei spent without me. He simply had to write about it. For whom? The question never arose as far as I was concerned. I was sufficiently egocentric to assume that it would be just for me. And I presented the idea to Andrei in almost that form. He countered by saying he had no time and that if now I normally sat up at the typewriter until past midnight, I would be up all night if he started writing. But his main argument against a diary was that I knew it all anyway. I insisted that I could forget, like any other human being. He maintained that I had a good memory. I said that I could die before him and he might have forgotten everything by then because he could end up hopelessly senile. He insisted that he would die before me—at the age of seventy-two, the same age as his father at the time of his death. If he’d been right, he’d have had three more years, an eternity.
We argued about the book seriously and jokingly many times, but I began to notice that Andrei was bringing it up himself, although from a different point of view: that I should write a book. Or he’d suggest writing one together. We would take the year 1935, for instance, and he would describe his life at the time and I would describe mine. And at the end of that chapter we would examine events from the standpoint of the theory of probability—why didn’t we meet on Tverskoi Boulevard that year? Back then I called the idea both a layer cake and a double bed of collected works, even though now the idea doesn’t seem as silly as it did then. The first definition was mine. The other I stole from Victor Shklovsky, who once referred in my presence in those terms to a joint work by Elsa Triolet and Louis Aragon. I replied that a double bed was a good thing, but a book has a different function. In that argument I recalled the words of the mother of one of my girl friends from school. It was in the days when people cooked on a Primus stove, which used kerosene (not everyone may know that now). She was dining at a friend’s house and when she was asked how she liked the soup (into which some kerosene had spilled), she replied that she liked “the soup separately and the kerosene separately.” My argument was that my life was of no interest to anyone, that it was hopelessly banal, while his was unique.
In one of these arguments I understood for the first time that if he wrote the book, it certainly would not be for me alone. It might be one of the most important things Andrei did. But by then it was clear that Andrei was fighting rear-guard battles. The arguments over whether to write this book lasted much longer than my arguments with him to write an open letter to Senator James Buckley, which gave birth to the book My Country and the World, and a very brief discussion with him about writing the open letter to Dr. Sidney Drell on nuclear weapons. Of course, in the case of the latter, the brevity of the discussion might have been a function of the difficulty of arguing: all the debates between us took place on paper, with our mouths shut. We were in Gorky, where we were “serviced” by what must have been an entire squad of the best “listeners” of the Soviet Union (not to be confused with Heroes of the Soviet Union, even though they might sometimes be one and the same, doing the now-popular time sharing).
The summer of 1978 was a little less busy than the previous one and Andrei started writing. By September he had written the first four chapters. One day I persuaded him to read it aloud, and I taped the first chapter. Later, when he was sent to Gorky, and I made my first trip to Leningrad, our friends there listened to the tape. In late October 1978 the manuscript and my typescript were stolen from the apartment on Chkalov Street. A few things of no value also disappeared—some other papers, an old jacket of Andrei’s, Mother’s robe. From that moment on a mystery plot began in parallel with the book’s writing. I once saw an Italian movie called Cops and Robbers. But in our mystery story the police were also the thieves. And if anyone ever wants to make a movie out of it, the title should be Robber Cops and the Author and His Wife.
The KGB declared war on the book and we began our struggle to save it. When I would manage to get a part of the manuscript abroad I would tell Andrei not by silently writing this down, but by quoting a favorite World War II song: “Our cause is just, and the enemy will be destroyed.” And when an attempt would fail, I’d quote another wartime song: “It’s a people’s war, a holy war….” We joked about it, but sometimes we didn’t feel like joking at all. When Andrei’s bag, with his manuscript, diaries, and other documents, was stolen from the dentist’s office, I was in Moscow. He met me at the train station the following morning. He looked gaunt and lost. His first words were “Lusia, they stole it.” I didn’t understand. “The bag,” he said. He was so agitated that I thought the theft had taken place just then, right at the station. He seemed physically ill from the loss, and on the first day I did not argue with him when he said that he would stop writing, that we couldn’t beat the KGB. But a day later I wrote on paper that he had to replace what was lost. Andrei did not write anything in response, but merely shook his head.
I blew up, forgetting all about the need for secrecy, and shouted that he was permitting the KGB to lead him around again and that as long as I was alive I wouldn’t allow it. The word “again” was not an accident. At the very beginning of our life in Gorky our friend Natasha Gesse was allowed to visit. I left her there with Andrei and went to Moscow. While I was away, someone either from the KGB or the MVD named Glossen came and asked for Andrei’s passport. Andrei looked through his papers, found it, and gave it to him. The next day he was called into the procurator’s office and asked to sign an acknowledgment that he had been warned that my press conference in Moscow was a criminal action. He signed. It sometimes happened to him that he was so preoccupied with some thought or idea that he failed to react to what was being done to him. Besides, at the beginning of the Gorky period he felt that resisting the KGB was as pointless as resisting the weather.
When I got back, I threw a fit that made even Natasha, who usually defended him in everything, sit hunched up in a corner without uttering a single word. That was completely out of character for her. Of course her silence might have been caused by a feeling of guilt—after all, she had been there when this happened. Andrei immediately agreed with me. He sent the procurator’s office a statement denying any significance to his signature. They returned the passport with a residency permit for Gorky, thereby making it seem as if his exile had some sort of legal basis.
Such stormy scenes occurred only a few other times in our life. Three of them happened after we had returned to Moscow. One was over a rally at the Academy of Sciences after his nomination to the People’s Congress had been blocked through the academy’s chicanery, he was not elected. At the rally I moved aside when I saw that the TV cameras were about to film him and later had trouble making my way back through the crowd.
One of the demands and slogans of the rally was, “If not Sakharov, then whom?” I was certain that Andrei would get up on the tribunal and announce that he was withdrawing his candidacy in all the territorial districts where he had been nominated in order to support the rally’s demand that he be on the academy’s slate of nominees. I was astonished that he didn’t do so.
On the way home in the car I said rather harshly that he was behaving almost like a traitor to the community of young scientists who were fighting not only for him but for other worthy people. That time Andrei did not agree with me immediately; but a few weeks later he reached the same conclusion and made a statement to the press. Of course, it would have been more elegant to have done it at the rally. (I use the word “elegant” in almost the same way Andrei did when describing a physics or mathematical solution as being elegant. He would say it slowly, savoring and enjoying the word.)
One of our arguments took place in the presence of several reporters, including Zhavoronkov from Moscow News. We were in a rush to catch a plane to Canada, and the reporter had come to persuade Andrei to repudiate our interview in Le Figaro with Jean-Pierre Barou.1 They claimed that it insulted Gorbachev. I was against any retraction, especially since the harshest words in that conversation were mine, not Andrei’s. But the presence of several journalists constrained me, and Andrei gave in to their arguments. Yet just a few days ago one of them told me that now he thought that they had made a mistake in nagging Andrei into writing a statement of renunciation.
Another argument occurred when Boris Yeltsin asked Andrei to withdraw his candidacy in the Moscow National-Territorial District in exchange for Yeltsin’s withdrawing as a candidate in another district, and Andrei agreed. In so-called real politics such agreements are acceptable; but the politics that was part of Sakharov’s life had to be, and in fact was on an incomparably higher plane. There are enough “real” politicians without Sakharov. And so I considered this gentleman’s agreement a mistake. It was done on the advice of several good people from the Memorial Society, who took an active part in Andrei’s election campaign. In the second volume of his autobiography, Moscow and Beyond, Andrei Dmitrievich recalls these episodes.2 Instead of describing the “mystery story of the book,” however, I have been writing about our family life, which like everyone else’s is always a series of arguments and reconciliations, but we had no other serious disagreements than these.
—translated by Antonina Bouis
October 10, 1991