Leonid Latynin admitted that he devoted 20 years of his life to his Russian Truth, a chronicle or a prayer in four books. The first volume, Sleeper at Harvest Time, was published in French by Flammarion, in English by Zephyr Press. The main characters are Russian history and a Russian prophet writing the Russian Apocalypse.
Written in incantatory, magical style, Sleeper at Harvest Time invokes the entire history of Russia in the story of Emelya, a half-man, half-beast born of a sorceress and a bear in the deep pagan past.
"Latynin's apocalyptic novel has been published at the time when his grim predictions are coming true." -- "Le Mond". "His incantations possess a magic power... This is a Pagan Genesis." -- "Magazine Litteraire".
"Latynin is one of the most original writers of our times" -- Flammarion.
Stavr and Sarah
or After the Pogrom
Translated by Arch Tait
Today had been a hard day. The work drained you, for the more a man seeks to take, the more he ends up giving of himself. The work drained you as if the neck of a fine glass vessel had been broken or had cracked below the level of the life poured into it, which first seeped through the crack, then trickled down the glass side, down a spiralling stem, on to a table and away into nothingness. Above the crack there would be a few drops less of life, and below it the same number more of immortality, while the remaining contents of the vessel remained untouched.
He opened a door leading to the right, and it closed behind him with a quiet groan, as if he had trodden on an injured man who was still alive but had lost consciousness, as people accidentally lose a notebook, perhaps, or the keys to a house where nobody lives.
Two people had already stepped over that injured man. One was a girl who was now hiding up behind a curtain on the stove, rolled in a ball and afraid even to breathe. The other had sat down at the table, lowering his massive, powerful, stubby, workman's hands on it. Beside those hands a potato steamed in a cast-iron pot, its aroma spiralling to the ceiling. A little further, in the very centre of the table, reflecting and refracting the light of a paraffin lamp and transforming it into starlight, stood a bulbous quarter-litre bottle full to the brim of crystal clear vodka.
Around the table there sat also, five to the right and six to the left, the comrades in arms of the man with huge hands. Their eyes were red and full of blood and vodka, because this was not the first quarter-litre they had put away in the course of a long working day. They were singing a boozy war song, "The ataman chief was taking his ease in the wide, wide steppes..."
The town by the mountainside on which the house with the table stood had a name, Lysenka, near Kiev. The name of the chief was Stavr, and he was aged not yet twenty human years.
The men were singing together, those to the right and those to the left, and they felt themselves to be friends of the ataman and sacred warriors in the cause of justice who had performed their duty of saving the fatherland. The weapons which had aided them in the performance of their sacred duty, axes and iron staves, were piled in a corner to left and right of the door into the room, opposite the icon corner where Saint Nicholas looked unseeing through the crimson flame of the icon lamp at the boys sitting around the table, whose ages ranged from sixteen to twenty-five years.
St Nicholas looked out at the white linen of their shirts embroidered with red and black diamonds, and at the red bloodstains on the white linen. Their axes were covered in clots of congealing blood and feathers, and their staves were covered in clots of blood and feathers, and the long white scissors of Ahab the ladies' tailor on First Gully Lane were blotched with congealed blood.
So boundless were their warrior-like elation and their strength that they were not to be contained within the narrow walls of this hovel in Lysenka with its leaning roof and wooden partitions, half filled by the enormous stove with its closed red curtain with the blue polka dots. And their elation poured forth from Kiev to Galeed, from Odessa to Suzdal, where Elijah had already in his mind moved out on to the bank of the River Kamenka four hundred and fifty monks and nuns, priests and their wives and offspring; and having burst over the world like a tidal wave, this boundless elation drew back and grew still near the cobbled streets of Lysenka and its poor quarters, congealing like a red foam on the bodies of the Jew Hezekiah and Esther the Jewess.
And the head of the Jewess Ruth hung down, staring wild-eyed at Jacob her father and Isaac her brother and at Judith her mother, who lay in a pool of blood with feathers sticking to their slit bellies. They had dragged the souls from their bodies with much difficulty, as a man who has sunk into a swamp has difficulty dragging his feet out and loses his boots.
Their warrior-like elation reached even to a poor little box-room where lived a man called Hosea and his son Jehoiakim and his father whose name was Amaziah, who traded in boot polish. Ahaz the baker and Ahiah the barber looked past the closed eyes of Ruth and Manasseh and Amon, trying to resolve whether it was somehow possible to gather together from all these smashed faces and shattered bodies, broken hands and the punctured eye hanging by a last red gossamer thread a single whole person to let him live again this vain, absurd life, so unpredictable and therefore so desired.
Stavr sat among the boys, seeing Ahab with his head cut off with scissors, seeing these walls, but seeing also Ruth and Joseph still writhing, weeping, begging for help and protection, and he felt the still warm legs of Esther whose forehead was as bare as a knee and who had offered no resistance, but lay like a washed shirt thrown over a chair and thereby made him, Stavr, even more happy and strong.
And they sang, and each told those things which the others had not seen so that greater ferocity came upon them until they could no longer bear the heat which scorched them and one by one, taking each his stave and the axes covered in blood and feathers, they disappeared from the room.
And there remained in the room Stavr, Tikhon his father, and there remained in the room also up on the stove beneath sheepskins the girl Sarah and her mother Rachel, who with their own eyes had seen the killing of Solomon, the brother of Sarah, and her brother Judas, and the father of Sarah Hezekiah, and her grandfather Jeconiah, and Ruth who was but three years old, and Saruch who was but five years old, with a single blow, from the shoulder, with an iron bar.
And the blood of Ruth and Saruch mingled with the blood of Judas and Solomon and Hezekiah, and its colour was one and their lineage was one, and they were bakers, and Tikhon, the father of Stavr, who supplied the baker Hezekiah with flour and loved them, hid Sarah and Rachel in his house where his son whose name was Stavr was taking his ease, sensing his strength.
And happiness decided to smile on Sarah, but with the axe covered in blood and feathers its smile was twisted. Tikhon gave Stavr to drink and sang that Stavr should sleep the sooner, but Tikhon himself became drunk, for Stavr was like a giant. So that he could drink yet, and of the quarter litre a third remained untouched, and there was strength in him, from the arousal and from the stories and from the vodka and the blood, so great that he did not know where to turn, and it would have torn Stavr apart, but he smelled the smell of urine and turned his head to the right towards the stove. And he saw a yellow stream which trickled over the whiteness of the limewash between the grates of the stove and across the floor, and he rose up staggering and went to the stove but it was dark there, and he pushed in his hand and found the leg of Sarah and dragged her out by it and pulled her into God's light, a black-haired, half-naked, green-eyed wonder whom he knew well, because he would cart flour to Hezekiah the baker and he would pour the flour into Hezekiah's sacks, and the girl Sarah would hold open the sack by its top, and when the white flour poured into the wide-open belly of the heavy bast-woven sack Stavr and Sarah would melt and there would flow through them secretly, hidden from the other, a wave of tenderness, warmth, desire, and trembling, and their hands would sweat, and the blood flow to their cheeks -- and it was the old blood, not yet that other blood, the sacred sacrificial blood, but the live, warm, human blood of peaceful times and a poor living.
Sarah pleased Stavr and Stavr pleased Sarah. Stavr would have married smiling Ulyba, his neighbour's daughter, and he would have had Russian children, and Sarah would have married the son of Rehoboam the shoemaker, who now lay in the doorway of his own house with his head split down the middle like an apple, and she would have continued Rehoboam's line. However, the gods and spirits took form that they might be heard and seen, and the madness of the Enemy put an iron bar into the hand of Stavr, blanched the peace-time blush of youthful confusion from his face, and pumped a new blood, the blood of hatred and self-righteousness and malice into his slit-narrow eyes, and only perhaps in the very depth of him, swamped by vodka and the blood which bore hatred and self-righteousness, there faintly stirred that forgotten God-given confusion, but it lasted no more than an insignificant fraction of an instant, no longer than the instant for which a tree uprooted by the wind hesitates before falling, an instant so tiny that no machine in the world would have been capable of recording it.
Stavr roared like a beast fallen into a trap, struggled and pulled himself completely free. With Sarah in his arms he sprang into the next room, threw her on a bed crafted with an axe, on to a white coverlet woven with a Sirin bird surrounded by red flowers, and at this moment a new tribe of mankind began tentatively to emerge out of non-being whose homeland would be the whole world. And there was no guilt in Stavr that the gods had darkened his reason, hanging a bloody curtain before his eyes, and there was no guilt in Sarah that it was she on the other side of that curtain. Every people emerges from the womb in the midst of blood and waters, and every man is born of blood and waters be he Russian or Jew, in just the same way as the tribe of Stavr and Sarah, but each emerges in his own turn and in his own time, and in his own particular blood and waters. And then he is called a Russian, then he is called a Jew, then he is called one of the tribe of Stavr and Sarah, a Stavrosarian...
Thus and thus and thus emerged every tribe on earth, every people. But pity those hapless ones sacrificed on the altar of the new tribe, for they are brought to the slaughter, they are the seed thrown to the worms from which the good ear will mature; they are the pitiful, stinking, puny, beautiful tuber which gives life to all the future tubers of the world.
Help them, Oh, Lord, to bear the misfortunes of which they are blameless, forgive them for knowing not what they do, help them to travel the brief journey from the womb of the earth to the air and stars which is travelled by the seed and the shoot it becomes, in the cold darkness of the womb of the world, and may the earth be a soft bed for them in the poor clay of the poor churchyard and of the poor graveyard far distant both from Moscow and from Jerusalem, where their descendants will live remembering their names, both giving thanks and not forgiving them their blamelessness and their inevitability, and the fact that the tribe of Stavr and Sarah will never now return to the lands of its father and its mother, because these are different lands and you cannot live in both of them at once, and only the whole world can be their homeland.
Stavr took from the table beside a bed a knife still wet with the sacrificial blood of Moses and Isaac and Hezekiah, and tried the blade with his finger. A red drop bubbled from the cut and flowed along the lines of skin on the pad of his finger enormous as ocean waves, and trickled downwards. And Stavr ran the knife from below to the collar of her shift and drew it up and outwards, so that Sarah threw back her head that her chin be not touched by the blade, and from above down towards himself Stavr drew the knife, and the fabric parted and Sarah was naked before him, and the light from her breasts struck his eyes, and the light from the sun reflected from her breasts and the crimson roughness of her nipples as if from a mirror and struck his eyes, and Stavr lay upon her and, forcing her legs apart, crudely and painfully entered Sarah, and when he was yet outside her and after when he was already within, Sarah said in her own tongue, "Behold, Yahweh, what is done against me even while in my house there lie my father and my sister, and my brother; and my grandfather is lying in that house beside the table, his white hair red against the leg of a chair, and I am lying before Stavr and there is no law between him and me, and I have no strength against his great strength, and behold he is an animal, and I have but one power remaining, which I fear; but I cry unto you that I curse him, and hear me, Yahweh, and visit your vengeance upon him." And these words she uttered even as a fist tightened behind her back so that fingers pressed her shoulder blades into her back.
The seed of Stavr had not yet flowed into the womb of Sarah before he was stricken by the God of the Jews, and his eyes were put out; and Stavr was still shuddering and he was in the lassitude of tenderness, when the light was put out, and the sun went from his eyes, and the whole world went from his eyes, the bed, and the curtains, and the boarded floor with the knot holes in every board, and the unwashed window in the room, and the withered birch branch with ribbons over it like the tree on the holy mountain in Osh, and the light vanished and went away into darkness, and the sun continued to revolve, like the wheel sundered from a car which has crashed into a tree... and it was the twenty-fifth day of the bitter month of December in the year 11918.
Gods punished Sarah for her curse, both the Jewish God of Sarah and the Russian God of Stavr, because he who curses is himself accursed by that same curse, and he who kills is slain by that same killing, and Sarah fell guiltily in love with Stavr and she became his wife. And when six months and twenty-five days had passed, on July 10, on the feast of Elijah or of Veles, Sarah gave still-birth to her firstborn son and his given name was Elijah, and Stavr and Sarah together buried Elijah in earth damp with Christian blood in Suzdal, alongside the monks and nuns murdered by another Elijah, who lay in a single common grave, and that place was sacred.
And these things came to pass before they came to the village of Yakovlevskoe by the Volga, to the Church of St Nicholas the Wonder-Worker, to the house of Father Arsenii, the cousin of Tikhon the father of Stavr, and that came to pass after they had made their journey out from the darkness and the cold, through Kiev, then the lands of Yekaterinoslav, then the lands of Kherson and Novocherkassk and Poltava and Kharkov and Belgorod and later also Moscow, Suzdal, together with Tikhon, the father of Stavr, and Rachel, the mother of Sarah. During this time Sarah saw the world and turned away from it, looking inward, while Stavr, who saw it no longer, forgot its appearance. And it was as if everything that happened in those years in the homeland of Stavr and everything that happened in those years in the homeland of Sarah passed through them as thread passes through the eye of a needle. In truth, however, it was Stavr and Sarah, both dead in different ways, the one as a punishment from God, the other because of God's justice, who tumbled like tumble-weed in the steppe through Russia's history in the first years of that blood-soaked cesspit which historians of future times would cover with asphalt, until finally their path would congeal into the letters and signs of the living book of definitive world history.
Only the dead could travel that route in those times and remain among the living.
God preserved Stavr and Sarah that they should give their name to their tribe which would have no homeland because they had come from a place which no longer existed and had come to a place which was not theirs, as was the lot of the whole Russian people.
For no matter where they might be, there was no thing fully theirs, as happens only to those who have left the tribe and land of their father and, even if they come to the land of their mother, have not their home there. For in one land there are only the children of their father's line, and in the other land there are only the children of the line of their mother, and only the whole world have they in common.
The beast lives in the forest, the fish in the water, the bird in the air, but man lives both in the forest, and in the air, and in the water.
In that year the dead lay in the water, and in the air, and in the forest. There was no time to bury them, and nobody to mourn them, because if father has turned against son, and brother against brother, then the father does not weep for his son, and the brother does not weep for his brother, but the son rejoices in the death of his father, and the brother rejoices in the death of his brother. The road lay outside the gates of the hamlet of Lysenka, which is near Kiev. And early in the morning of the blinding of Stavr and one day after the death of Solomon, the brother of Sarah, and of Judas, and of their father Hezekiah, and of their grandfather Jeconiah, and of Ruth who was three years of age and of Saruch who was five years of age, Sarah and her mother Rachel, and Tikhon, the father of Stavr, set off wherever the eyes of the seeing should take them, and Stavr wherever a blind man might be led.
And they walked without end over the snowy, hot, scorching, frozen hungry earth. From the city named after Kii the Ferryman, from whence also had proceeded the second Russian land, they walked at first to the south, but then, seeing the growing horrors in the land, they walked so long towards the north, following in the footsteps of their forebears afflicted with the sickness of insubordination and freedom who fled from the south, the east, the west until they found a land in which there was neither fire nor evil-doing; and there they stopped in the house of Father Arsenii, opposite the cathedral of St Nicholas the Wonder-Worker.
And their path to the south from Lysenka was from the house, between the river and the hill, which burned down that night because Sarah knocked over a candle as she struggled to free herself from beneath the newly depopulated Stavr, and first the bed burst into flames with the lacy white coverlet darkened with the stain of the sacrifical blood of the virgin Sarah, and the fire, like a horseman jumping a ditch, leapt to the curtains and then to the walls, punched a hole in the roof, burst through to the roofing, and the lunatic red horseman danced furiously, jumping from roof to ridge, and from the ridge this crimson steed flew leaping to the next house, and already a whole cavalry was in full gallop beneath the black, red, bloody sky, wiping away all trace of the pogrom and turning into ash of the same grey colour both the drunken gang where they slept and those they had killed, Isaiah and his son Job, and the father of Jacob, who traded in boot polish, and Ruth and Joseph and Esther, Judas and Solomon and Joachim, and the ashes flew mingling up into the sky and drifted among the winged horsemen flying among the clouds, who whooped and yelled for joy at yet another triumph, though few they were in number by comparison with the squadrons flying above the blazing cities of Moscow and Jerusalem.
Stavr did not see the flame, and only its heat singed the brows of his empty eyes, which may have been put out by the God of the Jews, or perhaps the fiery horseman burned them out as he flew past, splashing Stavr's face from his burning dipper which resembled the dipper of the Great Bear after whom once both the River Moscow and later also Moscow itself were named. The Mother Bear, spilling the fiery drink from her dipper, divided the terrible bloody south from the peace and quiet which even in those bloody years reigned in the North.
And they went in, Stavr, and Sarah his wife, and Tikhon, the father of Stavr, and Rachel, the mother of Sarah, entering within the walls of the Kiev Monastery of the Caves where these many centuries no blood had been spilt and where the pogromist's axe was stilled and the knife of the murderer held back, and where those threatened with violence were under the protection of these holy walls, and even as they entered the Monastery they heard a cry, and it was a cry of pain, and a cry of astonishment, a cry of confusion, and a cry of readiness for martyrdom, and it was the cry of Vladimir, Metropolitan of Kiev.
It was two o'clock in the afternoon, and his cry was uttered a hundred miles from the gates of the Monastery, and Father Vladimir was lying on his back, and Stavr asked what this cry was, and Sarah said it was the cry of a human being. Stavr was silent, but he knew the cry for thus had Moses the shoemaker cried when Stavr first struck him with the axe, hitting him not in the middle of his head but to one side, like the killer of Father Alexander Men. Both Tikhon and Rachel turned Stavr away from the Monastery and they went away, but Sarah looked and could not take her eyes from four men radiating anger and justice.
And one of the killers was in a leather jacket, and three wore soldiers' greatcoats, and the one in the leather jacket was the first and he fired a shot and hit his Grace in the cheek, a finger lower than the right eye, and that was the first cry. And the second was when a soldier split the head of the Metropolitan with his sword which he held in his left hand, for he was left-handed. And the third cry was when a soldier plunged his bayonet in his neck by the right ear. And the fourth, cut off even at its beginning, was when a soldier thrust his bayonet into the mouth of his Grace so that he should shout no more, and his Grace was silent. And then again and again each one who had a bayonet plunged it into the breast of his Grace and the man clad in leather shot into his breast in the place where a bayonet had gone, and the one who had a sword split the belly of his Grace asunder.
And it was at this moment that the dream of life and salvation closed Sarah's eyes to the world and immediately opened the eyes within her, as if the sun had set on this world and risen in another, and Sarah ceased to see her own misery and pain, her shame and humiliation, and knew her guilt towards Stavr. And it was as if in that Monastery on the eternal feast of St Tatyana the tribe of Sarah and the tribe of Stavr crossed a boundary which equalized their suffering, that it should be possible to go forward, not stopping and not turning away from what would be a new and different life on this earth.
But this different life would not change its outward appearance, confronting Sarah and Rachel her mother and Stavr and Tikhon his father at every turn with things of which the songs do not tell, of which every race is ashamed when it is in its right mind and in its right memory. And these unspeakable things became a way of life in the land of Stavr, and it may be that Stavr himself had given them impetus when he subordinated himself to the gods visible and audible.
His blindness, timely as it proved, spared his eyes from seeing the earth, but his ears and his soul shuddered alike at the cries which, like the parishioners of old on Easter Sunday, poured unendingly through the gates in the Kremlin walls, swamping his hearing and his soul.
From Glas 6, Jews and Strangers